Waiting for the peak
By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wenesday, April 15
The scale of the epidemic is expected to enter its peak period in the first half of May; the peak will define the main events of the country’s socio-economic situation. The government is expecting a sharp increase in the number of patients and has already announced that mildly sick patients will be treated at home. Meanwhile, the Georgian government appealed to NATO's Euro-Atlantic Response Coordination Center (EADRCC) for help and called for equipment to fight the epidemic. On average, Georgia can handle up to 10,000 patients, but since there are about 15,000 beds in the country's hospitals, more patients can be treated. The scale of the epidemic is far from these marginal capabilities of the country’s medical sector, and doctors hope the country will survive such a large-scale increase.
On April 8th, the Minister of Health Ekaterine Tikaradze explained the capabilities of the Georgian healthcare system - up to 700 respiratory devices, with the possibility to manage up to 3,500 moderate and severely infected patients, as well as quarantine zones for more than 5,000 patients.
One of the main concerns of the government today is the upcoming Orthodox Easter. In previous years, the government attended the Easter service with almost the entire staff, but now, the ministers are sending messages that they are not going to attend the liturgy at home and that they will pray at home. However, they do not directly ask the parishioners to do the same and do not call on the church to close the temples. According to the established tradition, the gathering of large numbers of people in churches and cemeteries is considered a serious threat in terms of the spread of the virus.
So far, the epidemic has spread and the government is trying to limit the scale and speed of its spread by imposing new restrictions. Agrarian markets were closed in the cities, leaving many more unemployed. Generally, self-employed people who depended on their daily income, found themselves in the most difficult situation. The service sector has stopped, non-food products have been traded, and now agrarian markets have been closed. Social problems are on the rise, and after a while, they become inevitable.
The opposition's solidarity with the government in overcoming economic problems is noteworthy. On April 3rd, 22 opposition parties issued a joint statement, urging foreign governments and international organisations to provide financial assistance to the Georgian government to overcome the economic problems caused by the epidemic.
The April 8th statement from the authorities read that the state of emergency in the country could continue after April 21nd and that everything would depend on the situation in the country at the time of the outbreak. As the peak of the epidemic is anticipated in late April and the first half of May, it is expected that the state of emergency will be extended. But here the issue of constitutional changes between the government and the opposition arises as a result of a great struggle. Change in the electoral system must take effect before the 2020 parliamentary elections. However, in case of prolonging the state of emergency, there is no time left. The opposition has not yet commented on the matter, and the government has said it will accept constitutional changes.
There is another demand by the United Opposition to release the detained political leaders after the events of June 20th. The opposition said an agreement had been reached. In such a situation, on April 8th, it was reported that the trial of Irakli Okruashvili, arrested in connection with the June 20th, would be expedited. He has been sent to prison for five years for a 15 year-old case. The opposition says the government is using a panic caused by the Coronavirus epidemic to retaliate against political opponents.
The issue of returning Georgian citizens living abroad is still acute. Some of them are in a very difficult situation and the news programs are full of video footage of it. Under such conditions, former President Mikheil Saakashvili says he can carry out several flights and return up to a thousand people for free. Authorities have denied the allegations in a statement issued Friday stating “similar, baseless allegations concerning Iran's intelligence have been made more than once. In response, Saakashvili said that it would be better for the ‘head of the bunker’, Bidzina Ivanishvili, to transfer the money, who neither appeared nor commented after the outbreak.
The subject of the discussion was the report published by the Public Defender Nino Lomjaria on April 2nd, 2019, on the protection of human rights. The events of June 20-21 were again in the spotlight of the media and the opposition. According to the report, it is not clear who issued the order to use the rubber bullets, which physically harmed many protesters.The opposition thinks that Bidzina Ivanishvili's confidant could have issued such an order. Gakharia, the Prime Minister, said he was responsible for everything that happened then and that the government had a legitimate right to use force.
(Translated by Mariam Mchedlidze)