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Coronavirus in Georgia: 6-12 April newsletter, updates

The average daily number of coronavirus cases over the week of the past week (April 6 – 12) rose just slightly to 12.4 in comparison to the week before (11.85), with the country having registered just 252 cases by Sunday, April 12.

It’s worth noting the number of cases is significantly lower than the prediction of 350-400 made by National Center for Disease Control Director Amiran Gamkrelidze for this past week.

63 people have already recovered in the country. There have only been three deaths from coronavirus in Georgia.

The government’s StopCov Fund, launched in mid-March, grew significantly over the past week to 125.5 million GEL, after a 100 million lari donation by the Cartu Fund on April 9.

While the World Bank has forecasted slow economic growth for Georgia between -0.2% to 2% in 2020, the rest of the country’s numbers when it comes to the fight against the virus look healthy:

Quarantine space in the country is only at about 70% capacity, with a total of 6,568 rooms at the state’s disposal thanks to the efforts of hotels across the country. 4,682 of these rooms were occupied as of April 8.

Minister of Health Tikaradze says the country can accommodate 10,000 patients per month if it has to, of which a third would be located in hospitals and two-thirds under out-patient supervision. But it is unlikely to come to that; she also projects that hospitals and other medical facilities will be taking in a maximum of 100 patients per day during the peek period of infections, far below initial estimates of 400. The country currently has 700 ventilators.

Meanwhile, PM Gakharia predicts the virus will peak in late April or early May.

Until then, most forms of economic activity remain suspended, with the Government of Georgia slightly expanding the list of economic activities permissible during the state of emergency.

Produce markets were closed on April 7 in Tbilisi in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Markets may reopen if proper precautionary measures can be demonstrated. GeoStat recorded 45,000 people working at the country’s outside markets and bazaars in 2019.

Earlier this week it was reported that 16 employees of the National Bank of Georgia had become infected with coronavirus. The Deputy Director of the Center for Disease Control Paata Imnadze said later that they were ‘not infected in working conditions’, but that the virus had spread among them ‘in collective self-isolation.’

The virus has made its way to Georgia’s regions. The Lentekhi municipality in the Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti region of Georgia was placed under lockdown on April 11 after at least four locals tested positive for the coronavirus. Four administrative districts in the municipality of Kobuleti in Georgia’s Black Sea region of Adjara, Gvara, Mukhaestate, Leghva and Tskavroka, were placed on lockdown on April 12, while Marneuli and Bolnisi municipalities remain in quarantine since March 23.

40 fever clinics have been set up across the country to admit patients with fever and respiratory ailments characteristic of COVID-19 infection, and Batumi Republican Hospital has begun receiving patients with COVID-19 as of April 9.

Some medical facilities across the country have had to shutter after experiencing virus breakouts, such as the closure of the Kobuleti medical centre on April 8 when five family members of a Batumi woman who had been treated there tested positive for COVID-19. The hospital in Sachkere has had about 100 clinic employees go into self-isolation after a specialist doctor, the wife of the local mayor, contracted the virus.

In better news:

International partners, including the EU, the IMF, the World Bank, the EBRD and the ADB published an open letter on April 9 pledging to push through a financial relief package for Georgia to grant economic assistance and aid in the process of recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic. This letter came one day after the European Commission announced it would be allocating 183 million euros to support Georgia during the crisis.

Health Minister Tikaradze has announced the government is working on an initiative to vaccinate persons above the age of 60 against certain kinds of pneumonia infections.

79 Georgian students were evacuated from the USA on Friday, after the Georgian and US governments agreed to orchestrate their return via Doha. Another 35 Armenian students also on exchange trips in the United States accompanied them. All of the returnees will be placed in 14-day quarantine, and are being supervised by the Georgian National Tourism Administration.

Up to 150,000 face masks are being sewn in nine factories across Georgia per day, Head of Produce in Georgia Mikheil Khidureli announced on April 10. Materials for producing the masks cost between 50-70 tetri (rubber, yarn, packaging material), while sewing costs about 50-70 tetri. The average production price is around 1.08. Masks will be distributed free of charge to citizens older than 70 years of age, journalists, volunteers and quarantine staff, market and pharmacy workers and to other state agencies. The retail price of face-masks is being subsidized and has been set at 50 tetri.

The country’s testing algorithm is evolving with the pace of events. Minister of Health Ekaterine Tikaradze says there is still no need for mass testing, and that tests will be used in a highly targeted fashion. As of April 9, tests are being carried out for:
• high risk individuals with coronavirus-specific symptoms
-- individuals in self-isolation and quarantine who were in close contact with an infected person and have characteristic symptoms
-- individuals from a cluster of patients with specific symptoms
-- symptomatic patients from high-risk zones
• asymptomatic individuals from high-risk groups in strategic facilities (medical staff)
• hospitalized and outpatients with respiratory symptoms
-- patients with pneumonia of unknown etiology
-- outpatients with respiratory symptoms and fever characteristic of COVID-19 infection, who should be tested in fever clinics
• organized groups of persons in:
-- penitentiary institutions
-- day care institutions for the elderly
-- the defence forces
-- inpatient psychiatric facilities
-- ecclesiastic institutions

Minister Tikaradze has also noted that the approach of mass testing may be needed in several days time, at which point “the country will be ready for that.”

As for the quantity of tests in the country, on April 8 Tikaradze said the country currently has 2,000 PCR [polymerase chain reaction] tests on the ground, with an additional 28,000 already en route. In total, 84,000 PCR tests have been ordered.

There are a number of different tests out there.

PCR tests check for virus RNA, are highly accurate can be used early on in the onset of infection, however they are considerably more expensive [currently they cost around 510 GEL, according to National Laboratory of Genetics Head Giorgi Chaladze] than rapid antigen or antibody tests, which in turn can be done quickly and cheaply, but have the downsides of a) not testing for the presence of the virus itself, but rather whether a person has been exposed to or already recovered from the virus, and b) have a window period of several days during which antibodies or antigens may not be detected before the body responds to the pathogen, and thus can yield a false negative.

Georgia currently has 4,000 rapid antibody tests, and another 20,000 are on their way.

Worth the read:

ISET Research Institute published a report on April 8 on the impact of COVID-19 on the supply and prices of major food items.

The Georgian Institute of Politics has published an op-ed by Dr. Bidzina Lebanidze on how Georgia can continue to stay ahead of the curve and beat COVID-19.

Emerging Europe calls Georgia’s handing of the coronavirus crisis a ‘miracle’, and writes in a recent article that “the country’s successful response to the coronavirus pandemic [] has been winning it plaudits.”

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