Information last updated: 22 April, 2020
- State of Emergency. Nationwide lockdown until May 10th.
Response set up and capacity
The Special Commission for the Control of Coronavirus was established by the order of the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev on January 29 before the first COVID-19 case was officially detected. The purpose of the Special Commission is to closely monitor the global and regional situation around the spread of the COVID-19, to develop a national prevention and protection strategy, as well as to centralize and coordinate the response and preparedness to the potential epidemic. The Special Commission was placed under the responsibility of the Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov and is composed of all relevant Ministries and representatives of State Agencies. The Ministry of Health and the State Inspectorate for Sanitary and Epidemiological Control are the institutions responsible for the health system related sanitary measures and strategy around testing, lockdown measures and treatments.
Entities / Organizations
• Special Commission for Control of the Coronavirus
• Ministry of Health • State Inspectorate for Sanitary and Epidemiological Control
• Virology Institute
• Ministry of Mahalla and Family Support
• Ministry of ICT
• Ministry of Justice
• Ministry of Interior
• Ministry of External Affairs
• Civil Society – A number of volunteer and charity organizations that provide social and financial aid to the vulnerable population (The Youth Union (Yoshlar Ittifoqi))
• International Organizations: - WHO, UNFPA, UNDP
- The World Bank
-Islamic Development Bank
-Asian Development Bank
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and despite many efforts to reform the healthcare system, the challenges facing the public health sector remain. These include underinvestment, regional disparities in terms of allocation of resources and health outcomes, informal payments and low quality of services. The benefits package funded by the state includes primary care, emergency care, care for “socially significant and hazardous” conditions, and specialized care for groups of the population classified by the government as vulnerable. Out-of-pocket expenses (formal and informal) for healthcare represent close to 50% of per capita health care expenditure in Uzbekistan. According to official statistics of the State Committee on Statistics, the number of hospitals on a national level was 1106 units in 2017. The number of available hospital beds were estimated as 132,000 in total, and the ratio of the number of ICU beds to population is estimated to be 333 per 100,000 people. Currently, about 1000 ventilators in total are available.
Uzbekistan has adopted strong measures as soon as the first coronavirus case was detected on the territory of Uzbekistan. It was the first country in Central Asia to suspend all foreign travel and to close its borders, when only 33 cases of COVID-19 were detected. As of 17/04, close to 91,000 individuals, those arriving from abroad and those known to have been in contact with COVID-19 carriers have been placed on mandatory quarantine either at home or MoH-supervised facilities. With regards to testing, according to the Chief State Sanitary Inspector, there are 200 devices spread across 40 laboratories to perform PCR tests. According to the Ministry of Innovation Development, scientists have locally developed a test that yields results within 5-6 hours that will be manufactured locally after the clinical tests.
Official state-run Telegram messenger account dedicated to information and updates about the coronavirus situation in the nation and globally was created to provide factual information to the public. It has 1.3M subscribers.
Mitigating factors - What is being done?
- February 6: 251 Uzbek citizens are repatriated from China and quarantined upon arrival in Uzbekistan.
- February 27: All flights from Tashkent to Jeddah and Medina are suspended recognizing the epidemiological threat.
- March 15: First case of coronavirus detected in a passenger who had arrived from France on March 11. Up to this date, 7700 people arriving from countries affected by the epidemic were being held in domestic quarantine and placed under the supervision of medical professionals. Planned public celebrations of Navruz (Persian New Year celebrated on March 21) are cancelled. To prevent the spread of panic, posting and spreading fake information about the coronavirus, the quarantine measures and the situation in social media is punishable with up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of up to 89,200,000 UZS (more than $9,200).
- March 16: Air and land international travel is suspended. The Prime Minister announced the closing of all educational organizations (kindergartens, schools, universities) for a two-week quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus. All public and sports events are cancelled and cinemas are closed.
- March 17: Communal prayers and religious gatherings are suspended.
- March 20: All external travel in and out of the country, except for foreign citizens travelling home, by car, bus, railway and planes is suspended for 40 days. The freight transport is exempt from the ban.
- March 22: All types of public transportation in the capital Tashkent are suspended. Only taxis are allowed to operate and have to undergo daily mandatory disinfection.
- March 23: The Special Commission declares wearing masks in public in the capital and other regional centers as mandatory. Appearing in public without wearing a mask is subject to a fine of up to 1,115,000 UZS ($110). Public events with more than 10-15 people (weddings, funerals, etc) are prohibited. Companies are asked to transition to remote work.
- March 24: Entry and exit into the capital Tashkent is closed for all modes of transport.
- March 27: Additional cities are placed on lockdown and are closed for all types of transport. All inter-regional and inter-city travel is suspended. Freight traffic only is exempted from the traffic ban.
- March 30: The use of personal cars is banned (except for special cases granted authorization, such as medical workers, and other essential employees) in Tashkent and other regional centers.
- April 1: Provision of individual charitable actions to help people in need is temporarily put on hold to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. A call and coordination center supervised by the Ministry of Mahalla and Family Support is established to centralize the help donated by donors and individuals to vulnerable groups, such as single elderly, immuno-compromised and single mothers. People can be fined up to 11.1 million sum (about $1,150) for hiding information about an infected person from the authorities and for driving their personal cars without the required authorization.
- April 6: Self-isolation has been declared mandatory in Tashkent, Nukus and other regional centers. Strict shelter-in-place rules allow leaving the house for essential matters only. Individuals older than 65 years old are forbidden to leave their homes without an essential reason. Violation of the quarantine is punishable with a fine of 6,690,000UZS (approx. $660) and up to ten years of prison term.
- April 9: Mandatory self-isolation measures are expanded to four other cities in the Tashkent region, and all travel in and outside of these cities has been banned.
- April 14: Chief mufti of Uzbekistan issues a fatwa on public Ramadan events. Certain large businesses in the vital sectors of the economy will be allowed to start operation.
- April 18: The quarantine has been extended for another three weeks until May 10th.
In addition to these, a new quarantine zone with capacity for 10,000 people has been built in the outskirts of the capital for placement of passengers arriving from abroad. Plans exist to build additional quarantine zones in the Andijan, Navoi and Surkhandarya regions. People placed on quarantine in state facilities have their mobile phones, audio and video equipment and bank cards temporarily confiscated because they could be carriers of the virus and to help locate people that the quarantined individual has been in contact with, the Justice Ministry explained.
The National Guard has been enlisted to monitor more than 5,000 homes and apartments where people are being kept under quarantine, and to enforce the quarantine in the streets. To date, the Ministry of Interior has registered 55,386 quarantine violations as of 12/04. In addition to this, the President had ordered the purchase of additional 2300 ventilators to equip the new hospital that is being built for coronavirus patients. As concerns over food security grow due to bans on food exports by main trading partners, the President called for increased production of grain and cotton, as well as asking citizens owning large plots of land to grow more vegetables and raise poultry or cattle.
Financial aid measures:
To mitigate and minimize the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and to implement the measures necessary to limit its spread, the government of Uzbekistan has announced a set of financial measures, including funds for public works, entrepreneurship support and a series of fiscal measures for SMEs:
- On March 19, the President signed a decree to create a state anti-crisis fund of more than $1 billion to mitigate the negative impact on the economy, strengthen the healthcare system capacity and provide assistance to the population.
- The World Bank is considering providing Uzbekistan with $1.2 billion to support its anti-crisis program, and specifically to fund health care costs and social welfare programs.
- Islamic Development Bank has earmarked $17 million for the purchase of medical equipment for new clinics combating the spread of the coronavirus in Uzbekistan.
- Uzbekistan requested $1 billion in budget support from the Asian Development Bank on April 1.
- EBRD is providing $150m to three Uzbek banks to support local import and export businesses.
- The Ministries of Finance and of Economic Development are considering giving out direct financial assistance to certain categories of the population, specifically those who have lost employment due to the coronavirus crisis.
Risks, vulnerabilities, obstacles
- Preventive and containment measures: Currently there are noofficial growth estimates that have been communicated by the authorities.
- No large-scale testing: While the government has taken stringent control measures to limit spread, large-scale testing is not deemed practical according to the State Inspectorate for Sanitary and Epidemiological Control. As of 17/04, close to 136,000 people have been tested for coronavirus with up to 9,000 people being tested every day in the last couple of days. The testing is only administered, however, to newly arrived citizens or people known to have been in contact with confirmed cases.
- Quarantine zones: People have expressed concerns with conditions in certain state operated quarantine facilities that do not satisfy the quarantine requirements, such as placing 4 to 5 people together in the same room, eating in communal cafeterias, and communal showers which do not provide the necessary isolation required of quarantine and could increase the risk of non-infected individual of getting COVID-19.
- High socio-economic impact: The World Bank has reviewed the 2020 GDP growth rate down to 1.6% from the projected 5.6%. A large proportion of the population is employed in the tourism and services industries, which are impacted the most by the current crisis. According to the estimates of the Ministry of Labor, close to 150,000 people have already lost their jobs, and 200,000 citizens have fallen below the poverty line due to the lockdown measures. The unemployment rate pre-COVID was estimated at 5.5%, or close to 1.5m people. Uzbekistan also has high rates of informal employment: only 5.7m people out of 19m in the labor force are employed in the formal sector. Additionally, close to 140,000 migrant workers that were sending significant remittances home ($1.3bn) are left without a source of income and have returned home. These imbalances if not addressed in a timely manner risk creating a deep social crisis and increasing poverty.
Potential actions and demands
- Need for social protection and financial assistance to the vulnerable groups to secure livelihoods: Lockdown measures are disproportionately affecting low-income populations and vulnerable groups such as elderly living alone, large households, single mothers, disabled, migrant workers and their families. Many experts have agreed on the acute need to provide direct financial support to everyone. Among the recommendations and demands to secure livelihoods are measures geared towards helping businesses keep paying salaries, payout of benefits to the unemployed, direct financial assistance to all, and food donations to the vulnerable groups not counted in the active labor force. Much of the population of Uzbekistan is asking for the government to lift, at least partially, the quarantine measures to be able to restart certain economic activities. The EU Commission has identified large-scale testing as being key in detecting and slowing down the virus as well as being a crucial requirement for lifting lockdown measures.
- Many SMEs are asking for a lift of the ban on personal vehicle use, especially farmers that cannot get to their farms to harvest the crops. Beekeepers are asking for authorization to use personal vehicles to continue work in the apiaries and to keep bees alive, as without pollination by bees crop yields would drop dramatically.
- Government transparency and openness to citizen initiatives: Government should keep an open and transparent line of communication with the citizens about the decisions taken , be open to and encourage citizen initiatives and collaborate closely with the civil society. As an example, many volunteer and charity groups have quickly organized and filled the void of providing food donations and financial assistance to the vulnerable population (single elderly, disabled, single mothers, etc) upon the announcement of the lockdown. Such groups and representatives of the civil society need to be transparently included in the response and relief process.
- Large-scale testing: USAID will be providing funds to prepare laboratory systems for large-scale testing and to improve COVID-19 surveillance and rapid response, among others. Private medical institutions have also been granted the right to provide paid coronavirus testing.
- Privacy and human rights concerns: There is increased concern among civil society and political activists regarding the strong law enforcement measures that have been implemented thus far, which include hefty fines, prison terms and confiscation of phones in state quarantine facilities. Many have expressed a fear that scaring tactics and heavy law enforcement have made a comeback in Uzbekistan, seeking to establish tight control over personal liberties. While most agree that strong government measures and actions are needed now to stop the epidemic, it would be equally important to ensure that they are lifted once the epidemiological crisis passes.
- Domestic violence: A center for rehabilitation of victims of violence has registered an increase in requests for shelter after the quarantine has been put in place. While hotlines offering legal and psychological support have been activated, and 197 centers for victims of domestic violence exist across the country, there is currently no available information about the financial means allocated to help organizations fighting against domestic violence, nor if the number of places in the women shelters would be increased. Activists have put together a set of recommendations to actively counter and minimize the instances of gender-based violence and to provide protection to the victims.