The Novel Coronavirus – an unseen enemy – snuck unnoticed into landlocked Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is a landlocked country, strategically located between Russia and Iran in the South Caucasus region, on the western shores of the Caspian Sea. It is landlocked, as the Caspian Sea does not connect to an ocean or sea by natural waterways.
Since I have a deep affinity to Azerbaijan, I contacted Nasimi Aghayev, Azerbaijan’s Consul General, to the Western United States, based in Los Angeles, to ask how his country is coping with the global plague.
Well, I received a full run down and am happy to report:
“From the very first day, Azerbaijan took the virus threat quite seriously. Under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, comprehensive measures were put in place to limit the spread of the virus. As soon as the first few cases of COVID-19 were detected, all kindergartens, schools, and universities were closed. A few days later, Azerbaijan partially closed its borders, substantially reduced air traffic. It banned mass gatherings, shut down all cultural and entertainment facilities, adopted specific guidelines for cafes, restaurants, shops, malls, and public transportation. Next, more restrictions were adopted to slow the virus, and as of April 5, 2020, Azerbaijan has declared full nationwide lockdown. In addition to the previously implemented shutdown restrictions, all parks, recreation areas, shops and restaurants were closed, except for grocery stores, pharmacies and food takeaway venues. At present citizens and foreign nationals are required, by sending a free text message to a certain number, to obtain permission to leave home in order to buy essentials such as groceries, medicine, visit a medical facility or take a necessary trip. All of Azerbaijan’s borders were completely closed to passenger traffic. Persons above the age of 65 are prohibited from leaving their homes and the government provides assistance to those seniors who live alone.”
“All coronavirus patients are treated at government expense, at Azerbaijan’s best hospitals. Since the timely detection of the virus holds a critical importance in the fight to eliminate new COVID-19 cases, Azerbaijan has conducted over 53,300 tests, which is around 5,300 people per one million of the total population. This figure attests that Azerbaijan ranks first in the entire region in testing, and is ahead of many advanced European nations in the number of tests. Considering the current global “war” for face masks, Azerbaijan has just launched its own surgical face mask production that is designed to fast satisfy the country’s domestic needs.”
And Mr. Aghayev continues: “My government also arranged charter flights from different countries to bring back students and other citizens who found themselves caught up in the pandemic away from home. Over 10,000 Azerbaijani citizens were evacuated and brought back home to safety. They were placed in quarantine in 4-5 star hotels in our capital city Baku and in the country’s regions.”
As of April 7, 2020, Azerbaijan, having a population of 10 million has only 717 COVID-19 cases, with a death toll of 8.
Economic and Social Impact
To mitigate the economic and social impact of COVID-19, President Aliyev allocated the largest share of the GDP (2.5 billion manats ($1.47 billion), or 3 percent of the country’s GDP), in Azerbaijan’s post-Soviet era to help combat the Coronavirus pandemic. The goal of the government is to bring Azerbaijan to a more advantageous position in the post-pandemic period.
Business entities operating in the virus-hit sectors will receive state support such as tax benefits, privileges, and holidays, which will help them survive and be able to pay salaries to employees.
Entrepreneurs will receive a state guarantee for 60 percent of their new bank’s loan. The government will subsidize half of the interest on guaranteed loans from the state budget.
The social package aims to relieve, by multiple tools, the impact of the novel Coronavirus, includes lump-sum payments in the amount of living wage to 200,000 unemployed citizens for the duration of two months, creation of 50,000 paid public jobs, tuition support program for students from socially vulnerable families, financial support program for mortgage and credit guarantee mechanism, program to support communal fees, primarily for electricity consumption of the population, and financial support program for vital passenger transport activities.
From April 5, 2020, Azerbaijan suspended entry and exit from its territory, via air and road transportation, except for delivering essential cargo.
The country’s self-imposed isolation is a measure aiming at accelerating the fast detection of coronavirus cases, as well as identifying those who were in contact with an infected person and immediately quarantine them. One of the government’s other goals is to regulate the quarantine zones’ preparedness and increase hospitals’ readiness throughout the country.
After visiting some schools in Azerbaijan, I realized that emphasis on education is first and foremost. The country has a 99 percent literacy rate. On March 11, 2020, the Ministry of Education began broadcasting TV lessons, for students of the general education institutions, on the “Culture” and “ARB Gunesh” channels. These TV lessons cover all classes and most subjects and are provided under a pre-announced schedule.
On April 2, 2020, the Ministry of Education launched the “Virtual School” project, implemented within the cooperation between the Ministry and Microsoft Corporation, aiming at ensuring its broadcasting interactivity and increasing online education opportunities.
Each participating pupil, registered on the “Virtual School” portal, is assigned to a class corresponding to their age and receives homework prepared by teachers in accordance with the topics taught on the weekly TV lessons. Each week new tasks on various topics and subjects are added to the portal.
Azerbaijan donated 5 million US Dollars to the World Health Organization (WHO) “COVID-19 Response Fund” to support the global efforts in containing the Coronavirus pandemic outbreak, and thus becoming the only post-Soviet and Eurasian country to do so.
The United Nations Office in Azerbaijan has commended the Government of Azerbaijan’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 virus’s spread and supported the call and actions, introduced through the special quarantine rulings.
It appears that Azerbaijan is doing its very best to contain and prevent the Coronavirus from spreading as well as to mitigate this unfortunate pandemic misery damage for its economy and people.