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CORONA VIRUS - The situation in Tajikistan

1. General situation

The Tajik Ministry of Health and Social Protection of the Population reported that from February 1 through March 31, 6 222 people who arrived in Tajikistan from foreign states were quarantined at the country’s infectious diseases hospitals and sanatoriums. Out of this number, 2 146 were discharged and 4 076 are still in quarantine. It should be noted that to date, despite the fact that no cases of coronavirus infection have been confirmed in Tajikistan, practical measures are still being taken to prevent its spread.

On April 1, at a round table at the Ministry of Health of Tajikistan, it was noted that the country needs to strengthen measures to prevent the virus from entering the country. “Tajikistan is one of 13 countries in the world where no cases of COVID-19 infection have been recorded,” said Tajik Deputy Minister of Health Shodikhon Jamshed. “In this regard, we need to strengthen preventive measures to prevent the spread of this virus in the country.”

After weeks of denials and apparent Government coverups, on April 30 authorities confirmed the first 15 cases of COVID-19 in two geographically distant regions.

China has provided humanitarian assistance to Tajikistan to support the Tajik authorities’ preventive and mitigation efforts against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The handover ceremony of the humanitarian assistance took place on the Tajik-Chinese border in the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) on March 30.  According to Tajik MFA information department, the assistance includes 2,000 kits of nucleic acid reagents to detect the virus that causes COVID-19, 1,000 medical protective coveralls, 500 non-contact thermometers, 1,000 medial eyeglasses, 1,000 pairs of disposable medical gloves, an 1,000 pairs of disposable medical overshoes. 

The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors on April 2 approved $11.3 million in grant financing from the International Development Association for the Tajikistan Emergency COVID-19 Project, which will support the country’s efforts to prepare for and respond effectively to the health and social risks associated with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The financing will help establish around 100 new, fully equipped Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds in health facilities across Tajikistan, and strengthen the health system’s capacity to treat individuals infected with COVID-19. Urgently needed supplies to help detect and prevent COVID-19 will also be procured, including testing kits, laboratory reagents, and personal protective equipment for medical personnel. ICU staff will receive training in COVID-19 care and infection prevention, as well as longer-term capacity-building in critical care provision. The project will also finance communication activities, through the media and local communities, to ensure the public has up-to-date information on the pandemic and about preventive measures such as regular handwashing.

The announcement of COVID-19 cases on April 30  came immediately ahead of a visit by a World Health Organization (WHO) team to the country. 

Tajikistan may be now admitting that the virus is inside the house, but it remains the same government that issued denial after denial throughout April. It should not be forgotten that as its neighbors closed their borders and went into lockdown, cancelling large public Nowruz celebrations in late March in the interest of public health, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon celebrated on stage with crowds of women and children. As its neighbors reported their first deaths and growing numbers of infected, Tajikistan opened its football season and told its citizens not to worry.

The accuracy of the information the state now provides about its case load and efforts should be heavily scrutinized. Those numbers will now appear across countless tracking dashboards, and likely some of the focus on the country — as an outlier with shockingly no COVID-19 cases — will fade. But even if the spotlight moves on from Tajikistan, the reality is that Dushanbe is facing a massive public health crisis and has wasted nearly all its opportunities to get ahead. 

President Emomali Rahmon pledged on May 1 to double salaries for health workers over a three-month period. That means nurses earning around $45 per month will take home $90 if they are involved in the front-line battle against COVID-19. Doctors, meanwhile, typically make about $120 per month.

It is unclear whether any compensation is envisioned for health workers who fall sick or even die with COVID-19.

Dozens of millions of dollars have come from the international community to help Tajikistan overcome the crisis. The European Union alone has provided at least 52,2 million euros ($57 million) for short- and long-term COVID-19 support to be provided through partners like the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and German development agency GIZ.

Millions of dollars’ worth of other emergency support has come, in either money, logistical guidance or in-kind aid, such as PPE, thermometers and even food, from the World Bank, the United States, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Switzerland, and the Asian Development Bank.

The Health Ministry has said it has 100 ventilators of its own, another 10 have been supplied by the WHO and the government says it has bought another 27 units from Germany.

It has become clear at this point that Tajikistan lost precious weeks in which it not only failed to implement any social distancing requirements for its citizens, but on the contrary had pushed ahead with the kinds of mass public events explicitly advised against by the WHO country director in a letter to President Rahmon.

In Tajikistan, until May, only one laboratory was able to analyze tests for COVID-19. The maximum number of tests performed in this laboratory was 230-250 per day. Since May, virologic laboratories have been opened in Khujand, Bohtar and Kulyab. However, many doctors at the regional hospitals say that they do not have access to coronavirus tests and have to send samples to Dushanbe. Moreover, some doctors report that due to the lack of access to testing, many people with coronavirus symptoms are diagnosed with pneumonia.

Tajikistan’s health sector was not ready to deal with the crisis caused by COVID-19, ADB noted in the comments posted in the COVID-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support Program published in June. ADB refers to the Global Health Safety Index, in which Tajikistan ranks 130th among 195 countries in the world. The financial institution points to low public health financing - it makes up 7% of budget expenditures. In general, in Central Asia, budgetary spending on health is 16%. ADB also believes that there are not enough experienced doctors in Tajikistan to fight COVID-19. There is an acute shortage of health workers in the country: only 10 doctors per 10 thousand inhabitants - this is the lowest indicator in the region, the ADB notes and adds that the average figure for Central Asia is 34 doctors. Earlier, international organizations have repeatedly called on the Tajik authorities to reform health care. The Tajik Ministry of Health and Social Protection said they disagree with ADB’s conclusions about the authorities’ readiness for a pandemic.  Meanwhile, many experts and doctors point out very low salaries of Tajik doctors: according to official statistics, the salary of a doctor, depending on the category, is from 736 to 1036 somoni ($ 74- 101), for nurses - from 582 to 683 somoni ($ 52-67).

July 6: According to the local WHO representatives in Tajikistan, the country should increase testing from about 1,000 per day to 3,000-4,000 and deploy mobile laboratories. The WHO also recommended Tajikistan report probable cases of coronavirus fatalities, which the country is not doing.

2. Preventive measures

  • On March 30, authorities recommended bus drivers to wear masks.
  • Mosques reopened on March 19 after being disinfected.
  • A WHO representative in Tajikistan, Galina Perfilieva, said on April 1 that the country had carried out over 700 tests and all had been negative. She praised the Health Ministry and urged Tajiks to avoid crowded places.

  • Tajikistan closed its borders on March 24 (at least at official checkpoints; its borders are notoriously porous).
  • Due to a coronavirus outbreak, Tajikistan suspended flights from Somon Air and China Southern Airlines to China, as well as flights to Iran and Afghanistan. A headquarters has been set up at the Tajik Ministry of Education and Science to provide information on preventing the spread of coronavirus. According to the work plan, all educational institutions must comply with hygiene standards and use anti-virus materials, including masks.
  • Due to the new type of coronavirus COVID-19 spread in Korea, Iran, Italy, Afghanistan and Japan, as well as the ongoing epidemic in China, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan recommends Tajik citizens to temporarily refrain from traveling to the above countries. Also, Tajikistan decided to temporarily stop the import of any food from China to avoid the entry of coronavirus into the country.
  • Tajik authorities report that passengers arriving from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Finland, Italy, Britain, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Israel , Austria, Croatia, Switzerland, USA, Canada, UAE, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Afghanistan, Iraq and Algeria countries will be quarantined for 14 days. The Tajik Civil Aviation Agency has recommended suspending the sale of airline tickets to people departing from China, Iran, Afghanistan, South Korea and Italy to Tajikistan.
  • All kindergartens and schools will be closed for an unscheduled vacation between 27 April and 10 May, 2020.

  • No quarantine was introduced; only non-food markets and non-production services were temporarily closed. Pro-government experts said that the state’s financial capabilities are limited, and therefore the government cannot quarantine like other countries.

  • All public events, including sports events, public meetings, cinema showings and theatre performances, have been temporarily banned throughout the country.

  • Other public services (markets, public transport, banks and etc.) across the country are functioning in regular mode

  • Authorities of major cities, including Dushanbe and Khujand carry out the mass disinfection of the streets, bus stops, park benches and apartment blocks with chlorine. The work is mainly conducted during the evening and night.

  • An increased public concern is observed linked to significant media attention on a number of recent pneumonia deaths in Tajikistan, sometimes accompanied by disturbing measures like burial at an undisclosed location or with a closed coffin and the quarantining of family members of the deceased.

  • Airports remain closed, while railway routes remain open for cargo. Additional charter flights are being considered by the Government to Germany, Turkey and Russia.

  • Three border crossing points with Uzbekistan and another three with Kyrgyzstan are open for international cargo. International trucks are unloaded in the terminal zone and goods are loaded on to local trucks. Drivers who enter Tajikistan are placed in 14-day quarantine in districts hospitals.

  • The United States Government has supported the Government of Tajikistan’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing life-saving equipment, laboratory and medical supplies, technical assistance, and assistance to Tajik migrants in need. As of June 25 the U.S. assistance totaled more than $5 million as detailed below.
  • On March 12, USAID provided 12,000 masks, 12,000 examination gloves, 1,400 gowns, and 400 safety goggles valued at $2,663. In April, USAID provided $866,000 funding to prepare the country’s laboratory systems for large-scale testing and to control infections in health-care facilities. In May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pledged $1.69 million to procure laboratory supplies and equipment for COVID-19 testing, organize trainings for public health workers, provide technical assistance for screening at ports of entry, raise awareness through community engagement, as well as implementing disease surveillance and clinical protocols to improve laboratory operations. In June, USAID and the Aga Khan Foundation announced a combined $2.6 million response to COVID-19 in Tajikistan to improve care for patients, especially for the severely and critically ill, create employment opportunities, provide food support for the most vulnerable, and educate communities about COVID-19 to help reduce the spread of the virus.
  • On July 5, at least two hospital directors in Tajikistan reportedly told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that it was impossible to provide the exact number of COVID-19 deaths in the country because hospitals simply don't have test kits to verify the diagnosis. Both officials said that because of the lack of testing capabilities they decided to put pneumonia as the cause of death of all patients who died with obvious COVID-19 symptoms.
  • On July 8, the Administrative Code began allowing fines for those appearing in public without masks.

3. Economy

a. Economic impact

A report of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on April 3, mentioned that lower public investment, reduced credit transfers and weak foreign direct investments resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak are projected to slow down Tajikistan’s economic growth in 2020 and 2021.

In its Asian Development Outlook (ADO 2020), ADB forecasts (as of 16 March 2020) Tajikistan’s gross domestic product growth to drop to 5.5% in 2020 and to 5.0% in 2021, from the 7.5% economic growth rate recorded in 2019.

Inflation, which stood at 8.0% last year, is projected to remain under 10% in 2020. The forecast rests on expected exchange rate flexibility, external currency pressures from ruble depreciation, potential supply shocks, and possibly faster monetary expansion during an election year, along with expected increases in public salaries and higher electricity tariffs. Inflation is expected at 8.0% in 2021 with slower growth in demand.

The United Nations has reported price increases for food basics on April 17 compared to the previous week: for wheat flour (4-9 percent), cotton oil (2-9 percent), carrots (18-36 percent) and onion (6-11 percent) in several markets, and potato (20-46 percent).

The World Food Program has classified the food price spike as a "crisis" in the country. Prices continued to fluctuate in the five monitored markets during last week and remained high against monthly averages of March 2020 and March 2019.

In Khorog market retailers reported that price control policies pursued by the Government authorities leaves them with no choice but to decrease the supply of wheat flour to the market. During this reporting week, shortages were not observed but the quality of wheat flour and potatoes currently available in the market is of lower than the previous weeks. 

According to two of the major payment systems, the overall volume of cash transfers from Russia decreased between 30% and 35% in March compared to last year. It should be noted that Tajikistan is among the most remittance-dependent country’s in the world. Tajik workers in Russia send home billions of dollars per year, equivalent to about 30% of GDP. 

The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) will reinvest $9.4 million, saved during the implementation of investment projects in Tajikistan, in the fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

President Rahmon wrote to IMF that remittances from Russia reduced by 50%. He indicated in March that compared to the same period last year it’s about $80 million less remittances received. The income of every fourth family in Tajikistan depends on labour migrants.

According to the World Bank, Tajikistan’s economy will stagnate in 2020, forecasting growth at 2%. However, the Tajik Ministry of Economy forecasts 5%. According to official statistics, imports and exports fell sharply in May. Exports from Tajikistan amounted only $40 million, which is 56% less than the same period last year. Imports to Tajikistan amounted to only $195 million, which is also 32% less than last year. Experts estimate the damage done to the Tajik economy at $ 600 million. The President, estimated the potential damage from the coronavirus pandemic at about $ 650 million.

In March, ADB provided a $100,000 grant to help Tajikistan procure urgently needed medical supplies, including personal protective equipment for medical personnel. ADB is also preparing a socioeconomic study to assess post-COVID-19 priority needs in Tajikistan to be incorporated into ADB’s pipeline of projects.

On June 18, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $50 million grant to help the Government of Tajikistan mitigate the adverse economic and social impacts of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. COVID-19 has significantly weakened Tajikistan's economy causing sharp reductions in remittances, international trade, and foreign direct investment. The transport, tourism, retail, and finance industries in particular have experienced slowdowns. Poor and vulnerable groups are most at risk from the economic shock caused by the pandemic and containment measures. To mitigate the adverse impacts of COVID-19, the Government approved the COVID-19 Country Preparedness and Response Plan and countercyclical measures. This includes a health sector and social protection package to assist the poor and vulnerable, and economic measures to ensure food security and safeguard small businesses most at risk. Delivered under ADB’s COVID-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) Program, the grant will provide budget support to the government and help fund its comprehensive response plan and countercyclical measures. The CARES Program will support the government in scaling up the availability of medical supplies and establishing quarantine facilities in at least 14 hospitals nationwide with separate wards for women and men. Salary increases will be provided for all frontline COVID-19 medical personnel, of which at least 80% are women.

ADB’s financing will also support the Government in extending its targeted social assistance program to at least 207,000 poor households, including an additional one-time cash transfer. Food security will be ensured through food price monitoring and controls, and provision of agricultural inputs for farmers to increase production. Subsidized lending and tax relief will be extended to affected micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, of which at least 24% are women-led. ADB will mobilize technical assistance to support CARES Program implementation and help strengthen the Government’s financial management, monitoring and evaluation, and reporting systems.

In the beginning of July, Tajikistan has asked for additional assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for its pandemic-affected economy. In a letter written to ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa, First Deputy Prime Minister, Davlatali Said notes that Tajikistan’s economy is in a force majeure situation and needs assistance. the Government of Tajikistan has developed the program to minimize the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the country’s economy and $364 million are needed for implementation of this project. If Tajikistan gets a loan, $176.5 million will be spent for enhancement of the health sector and protection of the vulnerable sections of the population and the remaining $187.5 million will be used to ensure food security and provide assistance to the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in particular female entrepreneurs. Davlatali Said notes in his letter that due to pandemic unemployment rate in Tajikistan will reach 6.1 %  and the number of unemployed people in the country will reach 100,000 by the end of this year. In February 2020, the unemployment rate in Tajikistan was  2 %, Tajik official noted. He also says that the economic growth rate this year will be 2.4 % instead of the previously projected 7.5 %. Tajik official also notes that Tajikistan may lose up to 20% of its gross domestic product (GDP) due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

b. Trade barriers

The export of certain food products such as grains, beans, wheat, flour, rice, eggs, potatoes and meat are prohibited.

Botst u buiten de EU op handelsbelemmeringen of andere problemen op het vlak van markttoegang? Laat het ons weten via handelsbelemmering@fitagency.be. Wij analyseren uw aangifte en maken die via de geijkte kanalen over aan de bevoegde instanties.

c. Measures for economic relaunch

Tax exemptions for the period from April 1 to September 1, 2020 have been announced for travel agencies, hotels, the restaurant industry, health and sports centers and organizations involved in international passenger transportation. They will also not be charged interest for late payment of taxes during this period.

From May 1 to August 1, enterprises that completely stopped work due to an epidemic were allowed not to pay rent if they rented premises from the state. In the same period, individual entrepreneurs who worked on patents in markets and shopping centers, including hairdressing salons, beauty salons and ateliers, were exempted from taxes. Until September 1 it was forbidden to impose fines on companies that did not pay social tax on time. Medical institutions, hotels and motels that quarantined or treated people for free were exempted from taxes.

On July 1, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $30 million grant to Tajikistan to strengthen the skills of the country’s youth, women, and labor migrants to improve their employability and wages, and enhance the capacity of employment and migration agencies. The grant is accompanied by an additional $1.5 million grant from the Japan Fund for Information and Communication Technology, to be administered by ADB. This project is especially important now as Tajikistan is expected to see an increase in unemployment and returning migrants due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Three new migration service centers will be built and equipped in Khujand, Bokhtar, and Vose as one-stop centers for departing and returning migrants. The centers will offer migration orientation programs, language training, and entry-level pre-employment skills training to help migrants find better jobs and enable safer living conditions in the destination countries. The centers will also provide financial literacy training for safe remittance transmission and information and communications technology (ICT) training for easier access to social welfare information.

The project will establish and equip three new model "job centers" in Dushanbe for tourism, in Rogun for energy, and in Dangara for agriculture. The job centers will provide enhanced skills training, childcare centers, and a pilot stipend program for female job seekers—a pilot program for new and more focused soft skills training, job counseling services to match interests and skills to potential jobs, and ICT skills training for respective sectors.

The project will run for six years with an expected completion in 2026. The Ministry of Labour, Migration, and Employment will be the executing agency.

4. Useful links

5. Dossier Coronavirus

Het coronavirus heeft een wereldwijde impact, niet alleen op de gezondheid maar ook op de economie. Ook uw export kan hiervan gevolgen of zelfs hinder ondervinden.

FIT monitort de risico's dagelijks en ons buitenlands netwerk informeert u over alle implicaties voor Vlaamse exporteurs op hun internationale activiteiten.

In het dossier Coronavirus vindt u een aantal nuttige tips, adviezen en inzichten in de economische impact van de verspreiding van het virus op internationaal ondernemen.

Met vragen over internationaal ondernemen in tijden van Corona, kan u terecht bij exportadvies-corona@fitagency.be.

16 juli 2020