Coronavirus: How ‘three musketeers’ helped Georgia fight virus

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Georgia’s public has been praised for complying with public health directives

Georgia is enjoying the distinction to be included in a listing of 15 non-EU states the European Union considers secure enough to open its borders to. It’s the only former Soviet republic to achieve that status.

Fewer than 1,000 cases of Covid-19 have already been registered, and 15 individuals have died out of a populace of 3.7 million. A group of public scientists, dubbed the three musketeers, are increasingly being praised for steering the Caucasus state’s successful reaction to the pandemic.

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The “three musketeers” of Georgia’s virus response: (L-R) Paata Imnadze, Tengiz Tsertsvadze and Amiran Gamkrelidze

By comparison, coronavirus has been raging in neighbouring Armenia, a country of similar size.

Hundreds of new cases of Covid-19 are increasingly being registered there every day, the full total number of infections has exceeded 26,000 and the death toll stands at nearly 500.

How did Georgia take action?

Georgia’s first Covid-19 case was registered at the end of February. The government’s response was swift.

By mid-March all schools, universities and non-essential companies were closed and public transport was suspended.

After the introduction of circumstances of emergency on 21 March, large gatherings and intra-city travel were barred. Nightly curfews were introduced.

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Georgian government

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In March, Georgia imposed nightly curfews to enforce the lockdown

During Orthodox Easter, Georgia’s most significant religious holiday, the authorities banned private transport and closed cemeteries.

“We took note of the pandemic’s threat a month before the first confirmed case,” Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia told the BBC via email. “Given our country’s specifics, such as our location and small size, we could not use the examples of other countries.”

An information campaign and regular updates were led by the country’s top boffins and Georgia’s National Centre for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).

The NCDC’s Lugar Laboratory is a constant target of Russian disinformation, which includes accused it of being section of a US secret bio-weapons programme.

But its boffins have light emitting diode the country’s fight from the pandemic.

More from Georgia – and Russia’s relations with it

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Media captionThe BBC’s Steve Rosenberg investigates Russian disinformation and the Georgian ‘lab of death’

Who will be the ‘musketeers’?

In Georgia, the NCDC’s boffins have become widely respected for his or her decision-making.

The trio included the head of the NCDC, Amiran Gamkrelidze, the man responsible for the Lugar lab, Paata Imnadze, and the main virologist, Tengiz Tsertsvadze, who is head of Tbilisi’s infectious diseases, Aids and immunology research centre.

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Marina Egubaia has been one of the key figures steering Georgia’s public health reaction to Covid-19

Another popular figure was the face area of people health campaign, Marina Egubaia, who is medical head of Tbilisi’s infectious diseases hospital.

There are now actually 19 laboratories across Georgia testing for coronavirus.

And on 30 June, the pinnacle of the NCDC, Amiran Gamrekhelidze, detail by detail Georgia’s success.

“By the gold standard we have made almost 30,000 PCR tests per million of our population. The recovery rate has risen to 86%, but unfortunately we had 15 deaths which represents 1.6%. Compared to global rates it is very low.”

Why achieved it work?

Georgia’s government has thanked people for complying with its directives.

There have already been heavy penalties for those caught breaking the principles during the state of emergency – $1,000 fines for individuals and over $3,000 in fines for violations by businesses.

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Georgia has strictly enforced its lockdown restrictions

“Stay at Home” warnings were digitally displayed at bus stops, and mobile phone operators broadcast the exact same message on people’s devices.

Despite a typically high degree of political polarisation, Georgian society broadly supported efforts to combat the epidemic.

The prime minister said the co-operation of Georgians and their “exemplary social responsibility in observing all relevant instructions and recommendations” had helped flatten the curve of infections.

The big test came on Easter Sunday when there were fears that thousands would attend midnight mass services in churches around the world.

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The church went ahead with Easter festivities, although many Georgians followed government advice and stayed home

The country’s powerful Orthodox Church went ahead with ceremonies and refused to prevent using common spoons for holy communion, but a lot of people followed the advice of the boffins and stayed home.

Neighbouring countries

Armenia, which (to date) has registered nearly 27,000 cases of Covid-19, started easing lockdown measures at the end of April, gradually reopening the economy in May.

Its health minister, Arsen Torosyan, told the BBC that the number of new infections was soaring, but that the nation could no further afford to keep shut.

“We decided to live with the virus regardless of the numbers. We don’t have an end goal to eradicate it. Because it is impossible. If we have to close borders for a year, close businesses for months and years we will die from other causes.”

Neighbouring Azerbaijan also continues to register countless new cases every day.

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Armenia has received to reopen its borders and its economy despite putting up with many infections

Its critics have accused the government of using authoritarian methods to fight the pandemic – without success. Images on social media marketing have been widely shared of police dragging people inside their underpants from their domiciles for breaking quarantine.

Restrictions lifted

Many Georgian businesses and restaurants have reopened. The wearing of masks is obligatory in indoor public spaces and there are tight rules on distancing and restrictions on large gatherings.

The Georgian government was hoping to open its borders for international travellers from 1 July. That has now been postponed, so prospects for the country’s tourism sector this year are bleak.

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Many restrictions have now been lifted, though masks remain mandatory in indoor public spaces

The head of the NCDC remains cautious.

“If Georgia looks like an island and an oasis between the surrounding countries, it does not give us the right to rest for a minute,” Dr Gamrekhelidze told the BBC.

“The fact that we only have daily new cases in single figures doesn’t give us the right to relax at all. We need to be in a state of constant readiness.”

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