Von Narine Rada
An elaboration of the key policy measures taken by the Uzbek authorities in response to the pandemic.
After long anticipation of official confirmation of the first COVID-19 cases in the country and speculations about the government’s transparency on the spread of virus infection, the Uzbek authorities officially announced the first case of COVID-19 on 16 March 2020.
1. Preparations before the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case
Prior to the official confirmation of a first COVID-19 case, there were several meetings at the government level during which preventative measures were discussed. On January 28, the Cabinet of Ministers held an emergency committee meeting chaired by Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov. On January 29, the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, issued a decree “On the creation of a Republican Special Commission to prepare a program of measures to prevent the penetration and spread of coronavirus in the Republic of Uzbekistan”.1 The first deputy Minister of Health added that hospitals were asked to store medicine and medical material. The government already had established checkpoints at the borders, first in Tashkent than in other regions of Uzbekistan, after the Chines authorities had announced the news regarding novel coronavirus in January. Uzbekistan strengthened the medical and sanitary control at the state border.2 Uzbekistan Airways, the national airline of Uzbekistan, temporarily suspended regular flights to China on February 4, 2020.3
2. Response and measures after the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case
The Agency for Sanitary and Epidemiology established within the Ministry of Health reported the first confirmed case in the morning of March 15. Several hours later, Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov, held a press conference. The briefing was streamed and televised live to inform the public about the upcoming measures, which became effective soon afterward. Here is an overview of the measures taken by the Uzbek authorities during the lockdown period, which was announced on March 15:
- All aviation, railway, and road communication with foreign countries are suspended. This suspension does not affect cargo transportation. Citizens are temporarily prohibited from leaving the territory of the republic, and borders are closed for foreigner entering the country.
- The government announced lockdown and self-isolation measures, people are allowed to go outside only for essential needs and have to wear medical masks.
- On March 15, the authorities announced that public transports are scheduled to be disinfected every four hours. However, public transportation services were then restricted due to an increasing number of violations of the self-isolation and social distancing measures and high number of people still going outside who expose themselves and others to the risk of a coronavirus infection.
- Travels within the country were also restricted to prevent the spread of the virus from the capital city, Tashkent with a population of 2,500,0000 to other regions of Uzbekistan. In this vein, starting from March 30, Uzbekistan has imposed restrictions on driving personal automobiles, which in particular concerns intercity travels.4 The exceptions to such restrictions extend to vehicles belonging to companies and/or vehicles that are part of food and pharmacy supply chains, medical personal, construction of medical facilities, and hospitals. The vehicles of the embassy and diplomatic staff, international organisations, institutions providing utility and communication and banking services, etc. are also exempt from such restrictions. The Ministry of Justice issues special permits for vehicles the move strictly for public service purposes.5 However, such measures received backlashes and caused the opposite result: Drivers stood in line for several hours in crowded so-called Public Reception offices. The government authorities quickly reacted and moved to an online application format for issuing special permissions for vehicles.
- Public events including sports, cultural, and religious events are cancelled and restricted. The universities, schools, and kindergartens are closed for three weeks during the lockdown. The students are provided with 50% discounts on domestic railway travels to return to their hometowns. Schoolchildren are provided with access to online classes as well as distance learning with the help of special TV channels and online learning platforms.
3. National health sector and response to the pandemic
During his briefing Abdulla Aripov mentioned that Uzbek medical experts cooperated with Chinese medical experts to learn their experience of dealing with a virus outbreak. The construction of two infectious diseases hospitals to treat the upcoming patients contracted COVID-19 commenced on March 26. Local architects developed the new hospitals’ design based on the Chinese model of Wuhan emergency hospitals. Additionally, within five days, the authorities completed the construction of a ‘quarantine zone’ in which people will spend 14 days upon their arrival from foreign countries under medical surveillance. The new quarantine territory of the infectious diseases hospital in the Zangiata district can simultaneously accept up to 10.000 patients.6
Three more medical clinics in the capital city are also converted for the treatment of patients who are tested positive for coronavirus. In the future, these medical facilities will be used to treat other infectious diseases. According to the Ministry of Health, ten more hospitals are scheduled to be built in various locatsion throughout Uzbekistan such as in Navoi, Surkhandarya regions.7 It is important to note that several authors indicated the poor healthcare systems in Central Asia, which is especially underfunded in rural areas which might have difficulties in combating the COVID-19.8
4. Economic and financial response to pandemic
Many experts and economists are expressing grim economic projects for developing countries amid the coronavirus outbreak, which is already negatively affecting business activities, and as a result of national economies. Consequently, Uzbekistan is planning and implementing anti-crisis measures to minimize the impact of a pandemic. President Mirziyoyeva signed two decrees including anti-crisis packages. The anti-crisis programs or anti-crisis packages that are being developed by leading countries to support their economies serve as a benchmark model for Uzbek authorities in designing their anti-crisis program. According to Professor Ganiev these anti-crisis packages, unlike the packages of other countries, are aimed not only at supporting the national economy and businesses, but also envisage several socio-economic measures. 9
One of the areas that started to boom during the pandemic is the production of masks and other protective gear. As a result, the number of manufacturers increased up to 195, which is 9,3 times more compared to last month.10 As “UzTextileProm” (Association of Manufacturers of Textile) reported, daily output of these manufacturers reached 2 million 640 thousand masks.11 The UzTextileProm also added that it is planning to increase daily production up to 5 million masks per day.
Masks and other protective gear manufactures located in almost all of the regions of Uzbekistan and Tashkent regions are leading in daily output with 404.000 units. UzTextileProm announced that 40 tons of raw materials were imported from China to increase the daily production of masks up to 5 million.12
5. Legal responses to the pandemic
According to Khudoyor Meliyev, Deputy Justice Minister, the authorities are implementing temporary restrictions on using personal mobile phones and other electronic equipment and bankcards for people under the state quarantine zones. Such measures are said to be necessary as these devices also might carry the virus. The General Prosecutors Office recommended people to keep the diary of meetings and collect the data on their travel route and note with whom they closely communicated. Experts hope that the risk of the pandemic and the government recommendation will convince people to keep the meetings diary which will help to track the patients contracted COVID-19.13 Uzbekistan also imposed criminal liability for disseminating false information related to the coronavirus during the lockdown. As of April 4, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported a total of 30.000 cases of violations of self-isolation or quarantine regime. Not wearing masks in public places and organizing events such as parties, wedding ceremonies are among the top violated liabilities. The financial repercussions of punishments can be deemed to be quite high considering the minimum monthly wage in Uzbekistan. For example, pursuant to the Administrative Responsibility Code, Article 5414 , not wearing masks can be fined up to 1,00,000 UZS (around 98 EUR). Based on the Article 244 of the Criminal Code15, the financial punishments for disseminating false information are subject to 44.000.000 UZS (around 4262 EUR) or up to two years of community services and correctional work.
6. Access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic
The government launched the Coronovirus.uz website as well as an official Telegram Channel (Telegram is leading Social Network Service in Uzbekistan) which is daily updated with a wide range of relevant information related to the COVID-19. Both the website and Telegram Channel operate in Uzbek and Russian languages.16 Both the website and official Telegram channels are organised in collaboration with and data collected through the Ministry of Health, the Youth Union of Uzbekistan, and the Public Fund for Support and Development of the National Mass Media.
Daily official briefings are televised live and conducted by various state departments to help to resolve the issues and questions raised by citizens. For instance, on March 31, the Minister of Justice, Ruslanbek Daletov, held the briefing and explained the online procedure for obtaining the above-mentioned special permission for personal vehicles.17
The Uzbek authorities are also praised for “pushing for transparency and wide access to information”.18 The Internet providers opened access to several websites for free to provide uninterrupted access to the Internet and information.
The online journal ‘Review.uz’ conducted a survey which, took place in two stages: stage I – from February 26 to March 2 and stage II – from March 16 to March 20, engaging a diverse group of people residing in all regions of the country. During the second stage of the survey, it was revealed that 75.4% of respondents stated that they are fully informed about coronavirus infection, which is a 29.7 % increase compared to the first stage.19
7. Regional cooperation during the COVID-19 pandemic
Central Asian leaders committed themselves for deeper cooperation two years ago during the Central Asian leaders meeting. The coronavirus pandemic, which is causing an unprecedented situation that affects the Central Asian countries, can also be deemed to test such a commitment. Since the outbreak of the pandemic Uzbekistan has been sending humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan as well as Belarus.20 Uzbek authorities also showed increased participation in Central Asian Diplomacy by calling the other leaders of Central Asia in coordinating aid to Afghanistan.21 Signs of mutual support in the region can be seen in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which sent and received several shipments of humanitarian aid to and from China.22
Moreover, the Chairman of the Research Committee of the Korean Medical Association was invited and started his activities in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.23 Uzbekistan purchased 500 ventilators from Russia and 250,000 test systems from China and Germany. Mirziyoyev also mentioned that Uzbekistan is working closely with the international community in combating the pandemic. During the online meeting of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking states, which was held on April 1, the leaders agreed to form the joint system of epidemiological surveillance within the framework of the Turkic Council and exchange of information and experience in the field of diagnosis, treatment and other measures on handling the pandemic.24
Narine Rada is a researcher in International Law from the IOS network. The name is a pseudonym.
Featured image: Republic of Korea / Jeon Han / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
- Review.uz. ‘Президент создал комиссию для изучения нового типа коронавируса’, accessed 14 April 2020, http://review.uz/ru/post/prezident-izdal-rasporyajenie-o-koronaviruse.
- Gazeta.uz. ‘Абдулла Арипов провел совещание по коронавирусу’, Газета.uz, 29 January 2020, https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020/01/29/coronavirus/.
- Sputnik Узбекистан.‘Uzbekistan Airways объявила о приостановке рейсов с Китаем’, Sputnik Узбекистан, accessed 14 April 2020, https://uz.sputniknews.ru/society/20200202/13358819/Uzbekistan-Airways-obyavila-o-priostanovke-reysov-s-Kitaem.html.
- Podrobno.uz.‘В Узбекистане с 30 марта вводятся ограничения на передвижение на личном авто’, Podrobno.uz, accessed 14 April 2020, https://podrobno.uz:443/cat/obchestvo/v-uzbekistane-s-30-marta-vvodyatsya-ogranicheniya-na-peredvizhenie-na-lichnom-avto-/.
- Podrobno.uz. ‘В Узбекистане с 30 марта вводятся ограничения на передвижение на личном авто’, Podrobno.uz, accessed 14 April 2020, https://podrobno.uz:443/cat/obchestvo/v-uzbekistane-s-30-marta-vvodyatsya-ogranicheniya-na-peredvizhenie-na-lichnom-avto-/.
- Kursiv.kz.‘Узбекистан построит инфекционную больницу за пять дней’, Курсив – деловые новости Казахстана, accessed 14 April 2020, https://kursiv.kz/news/medicina/2020-03/uzbekistan-postroit-infekcionnuyu-bolnicu-za-pyat-dney.
- Azernews.az.‘Uzbekistan Building Hospitals for Coronavirus Patients’, AzerNews.az, 26 March 2020, https://www.azernews.az/region/163343.html.
- See e.g. Nathan Paul Southern Kennedy Lindsey, ‘Central Asian States Can’t Hide the Coronavirus Any Longer’, Foreign Policy (blog), accessed 4 April 2020, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/20/central-asian-states-cant-hide-coronavirus-kazakhstan-uzbekistan-kyrgyzstan-tajikistan-turkmenistan/.; Colleen Wood, ‘How Is Central Asia Handling COVID-19?’, accessed 6 April 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/03/how-is-central-asia-handling-covid-19/.
- Review.uz.‘Пандемия и антикризисные меры для поддержания национальной экономики’, accessed 14 April 2020, https://review.uz/ru/post/pandemiya-i-antikrizisne-mer-dlya-podderjaniya-nacionalnoy-ekonomiki.
- Темир Исаев Исаев, ‘Узбекистан нарастил суточное производство масок до 2,6 млн. Количество производителей за месяц выросло в 9 раз’, Podrobno.uz, accessed 13 April 2020, https://podrobno.uz:443/cat/obchestvo/uzbekistan-narastil-sutochnoe-proizvodstvo-masok-do-2-6-milliona-kolichestvo-proizvoditeley-za-mesya/.
- Podrobno.uz.‘Узбекистан импортировал 40 тонн сырья из КНР для пошива масок и защитной одежды’, Podrobno.uz, accessed 14 April 2020, https://podrobno.uz:443/cat/uzbekistan-i-kitay-klyuchi-ot-budushchego/uzbekistan-importiroval-40-tonn-syrya-iz-knr-dlya-poshiva-masok-i-zashchitnoy-odezhdy/.
- Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com), ‘Как Казахстан и Узбекистан борются с коронавирусом | DW | 07.04.2020’, DW.COM, accessed 13 April 2020.
- Lex.uz.‘22.09.1994. Кодекс Республики Узбекистан Об Административной Ответственности’, accessed 5 April 2020, https://lex.uz/docs/97661.
- Lez.uz. ‘22.09.1994. Уголовный Кодекс Республики Узбекистан’, accessed 5 April 2020, https://lex.uz/docs/111457.
- United Nations Uzbekistan. ‘United Nations in Uzbekistan Official Web Site’, accessed 3 April 2020, http://www.un.uz/eng/news/display/378.
- coronoviruz.uz.‘Видеогалерея’, coronavirus.uz, accessed 3 April 2020, https://coronavirus.uz/uz/lists/category/2?page=2&per-page=12.
- Wood, ‘How Is Central Asia Handling COVID-19?’
- Review.uz.‘«Ижтимоий фикр»: 54% опрошенных считают, что стоимость на продукты питания выросла из-за коронавируса’, accessed 14 April 2020, https://review.uz/ru/post/ijtimoiy-fikr-54-oproshennx-schitayut-chto-stoimost-na-produkt-pitaniya-vrosla-iz-za-koronavirusa.
- See e.g. Gazerta.uz.,‘Узбекистан Отправил Гуманитарную Помощь Таджикистану – Газета.Uz’, accessed 14 April 2020, https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020/04/09/tj-aid/.
- Исаев, ‘Узбекистан нарастил суточное производство масок до 2,6 млн. Количество производителей за месяц выросло в 9 раз’.
- Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com), ‘Как Казахстан и Узбекистан борются с коронавирусом | DW | 07.04.2020’.
- Sputnik Узбекистан,‘Эксперт из Южной Кореи прибыл в Узбекистан, чтобы помочь побороть вирус’, Sputnik Узбекистан, accessed 15 April 2020, https://uz.sputniknews.ru/society/20200330/13805174/Ekspert-iz-Yuzhnoy-Korei-pribyl-v-Uzbekistan-chtoby-pomoch-poborot-virus.html.
- Podrobno.uz.‘Мирзиёев вновь выступил по поводу коронавируса. Узбекистан закупил в России 500 аппаратов ИВЛ и 250 тысяч тест-систем в Китае и Германии’, Podrobno.uz, accessed 15 April 2020, https://podrobno.uz:443/cat/obchestvo/mirziyeev-vnov-vystupil-po-povodu-koronavirusa-uzbekistan-zakupil-v-rossii-500-apparatov-ivl-i-250-t/.