Zarema Shaukenova, Doctor of Sociology, Professor, Academician of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Director of the KazISS under the President of the RK
Abstract. The coronavirus pandemic, which has become a catalyst for many troubles and tragedies this year and has radically changed the foundations of life, has not spared the Central Asian region. The countries of the region are being seriously tested, including by restrictive measures that have resulted in thousands of people losing their permanent income or experiencing a reduction in it, and forced to be isolated, which undoubtedly affects the mental health of citizens. Since the beginning of the pandemic to date, Kazakhstan, along with other Central Asian states, has been taking comprehensive measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic aimed at preventing the spread, suppression and elimination of the negative consequences of the coronavirus. This article examines the current epidemiological situation in Kazakhstan and the country’s experience in terms of measures and approaches taken by the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan during the epidemic.
Keywords: Kazakhstan, COVID-19, Pandemic, Government Measures, Healthcare, Quarantine
In the current conditions, the international community continues to intensively fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a slowdown in global technological and scientific progress and the development of the world economy. Each of us is now wondering what the new reality of the post-coronavirus world will be. As UN Secretary General Antonio Gutterres noted, the consequences of the pandemic will be felt for decades in all spheres of our life, and it is now important for the world community to show solidarity and join forces in order to “stop this virus” .
According to John Hopkins University, as of September 6 this year, there was an unprecedented increase in the number of COVID-19 cases around the world. 304,626 infected with coronavirus were detected during the day, while the previous peak of growth occurred on August 14 this year, when the number of infected people was 304,351 within 24 hours. Overall, 26,882,530 cases of coronavirus have been reported since the beginning of the global pandemic, of which 879,580 have been fatal
The current deepest crisis has not been spared in Central Asia, where more than 200 thousand people have been infected with the coronavirus since March, more than 3,000 have died. In addition, hundreds of thousands have lost permanent income or experienced a reduction in income due to quarantine measures and the closure of state borders.
In this article, the experience of Kazakhstan in terms of measures and approaches taken by the government during the epidemic is addressed.
Social and Epidemiological Measures
The first cases of COVID-19 coronavirus infection were registered in Kazakhstan on March 13, 2020. At the same time, the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan had been actively preparing for it since January 2020. First of all, there was created a special interdepartmental commission on the non-contagion of coronavirus infection. The Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan has implemented three stages of strengthening to prevent the import and spread of coronavirus infection in Kazakhstan:
at the first stage, sanitary and epidemiological control at the borders was strengthened, training exercises were held, and information and explanatory work was started among the population.
- at the second stage, laboratory diagnostics of infection was established, and the treatment regimen was approved.
- at the third stage, a methodology for ranking countries into three categories depending on the risk of infection was developed and implemented.
Depending on the level of risk, medical control was established for people arriving from countries that had bad COVID situation. A special “hotline” headquarters has been created under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which advises citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan who apply for help.
In order to prevent the spread of the disease, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan K. K. Tokayev signed the Decree on the Introduction of a State of Emergency from March 16 to April 15, 2020, which was further extended until May 11 this year. The spring restrictive measures allowed the Government and the medical sector to prepare in technical terms and adjust the further strategy to counteract the pandemic.
Unfortunately, later Kazakhstan faced an emergency epidemiological situation. By the end of June, about 1,700 cases of infection were detected daily in the country, hospitals began to experience a huge load, and the situation with medicines in pharmacies was not easy. The high increase in morbidity was largely due to the behavior of the part of the population that neglected precautions early. In this regard, on July 5 this year, it was decided to return to strict quarantine, which lasted until the end of the month.
As a result of the stabilization of the epidemiological situation, including a reduction in the daily increase in infection from 4% to 0.5%, it was decided to put into effect the Plan for Phasing out Quarantine Measures from August 17 this year. Along with the resumption of work of business entities of a specific field in each region, including retail facilities, the easing of quarantine measures provides for the continuation of work in remote mode for at least 80% of employees, the continuation of restrictive measures on weekends, and above all compliance with the requirements for masking mode and social distancing .
Under these conditions, Kazakhstan has started the second stage of easing quarantine restrictions since August 31 this year, approved by the Interdepartmental Commission on August 26 this year and assuming the permission of activity to a larger range of facilities, including specially protected natural territories, cultural and religious facilities, suburban passenger transportation, subject to compliance with all sanitary requirements . At this stage, state measures are primarily aimed at consolidating the positive results of stabilizing the epidemiological situation in the country. In this regard, the next important step of the government of Kazakhstan is the introduction of a mechanism for selective restrictions and adaptive quarantine .
Social and Economic Measures
An important component of the coronacrisis today, of course, are measures of socio-economic support to the population and business. In Kazakhstan, the volume of anti-crisis measures amounted to more than 4 trillion tenge. To help businesses, the government decided to exempt them from paying taxes until December 31, 2020, suspended the accrual of penalties for non-fulfilled tax obligations of the year, and postponed the deadline for submitting tax reports to the third quarter of 2020.Working citizens of Kazakhstan who lost their income during the state of emergency, as well as the self-employed received payments in the amount of 1 minimum wage (42.5 thousand tenge per month). Besides, there were taken additional support measures, including assistance to low-income citizens with food and household kits, assistance to farmers for timely spring field work, providing work for citizens around large cities that are closed for quarantine, etc.
In his Message to the people of Kazakhstan on September 1 this year, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced the construction of 13 infectious hospitals in the regions and 2 multi-purpose centers in Nur-Sultan and Almaty to form a kind of “health belt” of the state. As an additional aid to small and medium businesses, support will be provided in the form of state subsidization of interest rates to 6% interest on all existing loans to SMEs in the affected sectors of the economy. Until the end of the year, the accrual of the rent for SMEs is suspended in respect of the real estate owned by state agencies and quasi-public sector, there is a decrease in the rate of morbidity in Kazakhstan. The daily increase in patients is recorded at the level of less than 80 people per day. The business activity of the population is growing back, and a strategy to overcome the economic crisis is being developed.
The pandemic has shown us all how vulnerable humanity is to such large-scale crises, and how dependent each of us is on others. It has once again reminded us all of the need for globalization and comprehensive cooperation and demonstrated the fallacy of falsehood. In this regard, the March call of the UN Secretary General to end all military conflicts on the planet remains relevant and crucial in the current conditions.
In the face of a pandemic, an important component of the government of Kazakhstan’s anti-crisis measures is to provide timely and comprehensive information to the population about the situation in the country and the sanitary and epidemiological measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
In this regard, an important step is the creation of the Republican Communication Center in Kazakhstan, whose activities are aimed at ensuring coordination between state bodies during the fight against coronavirus in the country.
The Center regularly works to ensure the collection and analysis of data, as well as the preparation of reliable consultations. There is an online monitoring group in the Telegram messenger consisting of employees of state bodies that was designed to respond to potentially hot-button topics in a timely manner.
A particularly important function of the Republican Communication Center is to ensure the operation of coronavirus2020.kz, a single information portal on coronavirus. Its work includes preparing up-to-date information for the site and creating multimedia products. The site’s Telegram channel is functioning successfully.
The website created for the purpose of reliably informing the population about the situation with the pandemic in Kazakhstan contains up-to-date statistics on coronavirus, real information about the rules of conduct during quarantine, state measures to combat coronavirus, as well as refutations on false information published in the networks.
Responses to citizens’ requests prepared by government agencies are an integral component of the services provided on the portal – only transparency and accountability would help in the face of the dominance of fake news and misinformation.
A significant role in informing the population is played by the Central Communications Service under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which organizes regular briefings to inform about the situation with the pandemic and measures taken in the country, which are attended by experts in the field of medicine, executive employees of central state bodies, as well as akims of Almaty and Nur-Sultan.
In the context of the pandemic, it is particularly important for Kazakhstan to strengthen cooperation with global and regional partners, including coordination of efforts in the fight against COVID-19, exchange of experience, and mutual assistance.
As President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev noted, “nowadays it is necessary to strengthen international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic. In this regard, we are making joint efforts with our partner countries. This is the main way to counter this epidemic. In general, we will maintain continuity in our foreign policy. We will continue to develop mutually beneficial relations with our traditional and new partners.”
Kazakhstan is actively negotiating with partner countries and international organizations in the framework of coordinating efforts with the international community to combat the pandemic, eliminate the consequences of the crisis, and ensure the safety of citizens.
At the same time, it is important for Kazakhstan to receive assistance and support from key partners during this difficult period.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a number of humanitarian aid consignments have been sent to Kazakhstan from China, the closest neighbour and partner, including lung ventilators, thermovision camera, contactless thermometers, test kits, disposable protective equipment, medical masks, medical gloves, safety glasses, and medical clothing.
Gratuitous assistance from the United States of America was provided to the Republic of Kazakhstan in April this year through the Defense Threat Reduction Agency under the US Department of defense in the form of medical devices and equipment, including reusable sets of personal protective equipment (overalls, masks, gloves, glasses). In addition, the US Government, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), has allocated about $ 3.11 million to Kazakhstan in the form of new emergency aid funding to assist the Republic of Kazakhstan in the fight against coronavirus .
At the same time, in July this year, a comprehensive package of solidarity assistance of Central Asia COVID-19 Crisis Response (CACCR) in the amount of 3 million euros (1.4 billion tenge), aimed at meeting the needs of the region’s states with a focus on Kazakhstan, was launched by the European Union. The CACCR program implemented by the World Health Organization provides assistance in mitigating the consequences of the pandemic and long-term sustainability of the national health systems of Central Asian states .
It is impossible not to mention the humanitarian aid provided to Kazakhstan in the context of the pandemic by the United Arab Emirates, Poland, South Korea, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Japan, and Qatar .
It should also be noted that in the current conditions, it is particularly important for Kazakhstan to maintain a comprehensive interstate dialogue and join efforts in the fight against the spread of coronavirus with the fraternal countries of Central Asia, including the exchange of information, ensuring the unhindered supply of products, and providing mutual assistance and support. Taking into account the lessons of the pandemic, in particular, the issue of production of essential medicines and products, Central Asian countries should strengthen cooperation in the pharmaceutical sector.
Back in April 2020, Kazakhstan announced its readiness to provide humanitarian assistance in order to combat the negative consequences of the coronavirus “as a sign of solidarity” and “in case of an appeal from the governments” of Central Asian states in need of such aid. The Government of Kazakhstan has already sent humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (5 thousand tons of flour to each country) to ensure food security during the pandemic and plans to send portable lung ventilators to Tajikistan and food products to Uzbekistan (flour, buckwheat, vegetable oil and canned food). An important unifying factor is the support provided by the countries of the region to Afghanistan. Given the special importance of interstate cooperation at the present time, an important role is given to the newlycreated Kazakhstan Agency for International Development (KazAID), which will aim to provide assistance to countries in need, including the states of Central Asia.
In the next stage, the primary task of Governments around the world will be to immunize the population. Covid-19 vaccines are currently being developed in dozens of countries around the world, of which more than 30 have already been approved by WHO for clinical trials. One of them was developed in Kazakhstan. In the framework of regional cooperation to ensure citizens’ access to vaccination, joint activities should be considered and logistics support for supplies should be provided.
In this difficult period, cooperation in Central Asia should receive a new impetus – only together can we overcome the emerging difficulties and minimize the negative consequences of the coronavirus for our countries and peoples.
In unprecedented conditions, containment of the coronavirus outbreak in Kazakhstan became possible due to timely restrictive measures put in place by the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, including the suspension of private enterprises and the closure of public crowded places, the transition to distance learning for schoolchildren, the suspension of passenger transportation between major cities and intra-city public transportation, the closure of international airports, the introduction of a two-week quarantine for citizens from certain states arriving from abroad by flights .
However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the fight against COVID-19 in the world will take about two years, and the rapid introduction of a pandemic vaccine will not entail an immediate end to the coronavirus . Taking into account the current situation of the pandemic in the world and the subsequent threat of a prolonged crisis, the government of Kazakhstan draws key lessons from effective practices to overcome the crisis and continues to work actively to improve socio-epidemiological, socio-economic, information, and coordination measures with global and regional partners in the fight against the pandemic at the local and international levels.
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