By Dr. Ashfaq Ahmed
Coronavirus or COVID-19 is synonymously used by the people and the media around the world to refer to the pandemic world is currently suffering from. However, Coronavirus is not a new disease it refers to a group of six different types of viruses causing respiratory diseases in humans. It can also cause other diseases e.g. lung problems and the common cold.
It is more or less similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). SARS had killed 774 people from 2002 to 2004. MERS had caused 800 deaths since 2012. COVID-19 is causing major health issues including pneumonia, organ failure, shortness of breath and fever. World Health Organization (WHO) claims that COVID-19 spread from animals to humans. It is spreading from human to human if the affected person sneezes or cough.
Azerbaijan confirmed the first case of COVID-19 on February 28, 2020. The patient was Russian and travelled from Iran to Azerbaijan. On March 3, the Government of Azerbaijan announced to suspend educational activities from March 3 to 9, in pursuit to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It was amid to increase the effectiveness of measures taken by the administration in Baku. Educational activities were further suspended. On March 4, the Azerbaijani government stopped transport from Iran. This decision proved to be fruitful and it’s utility. Fear that people coming from Iran can be infected with COVID-19 was proved on March 5. Two Azerbaijani nationals and a German citizen was coming from Iran were tested positive with COVID-19.
Cabinet Ministers issued orders to keep 276 people coming from Iran in isolation. COVID-19 spread from humans to humans hence the decision was taken in the best interest of the people of Azerbaijan. Contrarily, delayed countermeasures and government’s negligence could have increased the pace of COVID-19 spread, resulting in loss of precious lives. It would have created fear, caused panic and resentment in the minds of the masses. However, rational decision-making approach in the light of Machiavelli’s advice to the ruling elite in “the Prince,” to bring glory to the state and rational decision-making approach prevented it.
Despite government efforts to prevent the loss of precious lives of Azerbaijani nationals, the first death was reported on March 12. On March 14, tireless efforts of the doctors and government support helped three COVID-19 tested positive patients to recover. Cabinet Ministers decided countrywide social isolation e.g. banning weddings, mass gathering, closure of cultural festivals, shopping malls, museums and theatres. The measures to fight against COVID-19 includes special treatment centre for infected patients, quarantine centres were created. Measures are carried out for disinfecting public places and transport centres. Borders with neighbouring countries including Georgia, Iran, Turkey and Russia was closed, creation of Support Fund, First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva donated her one year salary for the fund.
Likewise, President Ilham Aliyev donated 20 million Manats in the fund, allocated 1 billion Manats from country’s budget to finance measures for prevention of the virus. Government employees were asked to stay at home. Suspension orders regarding educational institution were further extended till April 19. The government announced nationwide quarantine and people were asked to stay at their residences until April 20th. Medical equipment was imported. The situation in Azerbaijan is painful for the President Ilham Aliyev this claim is made on the basis of a statement issued by the President stating that “situation in the leading countries of the world … is getting out of control about a thousand people die there every day....” If pandemic spreads tragic events will become inevitable. On March 28, President and the Vice President inaugurated Yeni klinika medical institution in Baku.
It is Azerbaijan’s advanced hospital to house 1500 doctors with 70 emergency rooms, 1500 beds, equipped with the latest machinery and equipment. It was announced that the hospital will start treatment of the COVID-19 patients. The decision was taken to provide utmost care to COVID-19 positive cases. He urged the doctors to provide best medical facilities to the affected patients. In his address, he urged the people to stay at homes and avoid unnecessary travelling and remain safe. Among other measures, the President issued directives to state officials to stay in contact with the World Health Organization (WHO) to familiarize with precautionary measures in prevention of the pandemic. Azerbaijan has donated $ 5 million to WHO, in the fight against COVID-19.
COVID-19 has a profound nationwide impact traditional festivities related to Novruz holiday scheduled on March 21, Baku World Cup for artistic gymnastics, Azerbaijani Basketball Championship matches and first tour of the Baku Road Bicycle Racing Cup scheduled were cancelled. Azerbaijan is one of the 3 most dependent states on the oil sector in the world. Global decline in the oil prices, reduction in country’s foreign reserves and funds allocated for government employees and additional unexpected economic burden on state economy to carryout measure for the prevention of COVID-19 will affect the country’s economy. Baku based bureaucracy will have to orchestrate the national economic strategy and introduce economic reforms to reduce Azerbaijan’s dependency on the oil sector. It is feared that the nationwide quarantine is affecting the unemployed. The government can assist them by suspending their utility bills this amount will be used by the people for grocery/ food items.
On April 2, the President held meetings with Finance Minister to overview country’s economic policy and carryout measures amid to declining oil prices and foreign reserves. Four Working Groups are created in Azerbaijan to ensure economic stability, resolve unemployment and mobilize country’s financial resources. Mikayil Jabbarov Economy Minister was directly ordered by the President to make payments to the state employees and avoid reducing the staff. The President also urged the “entrepreneurs not to reduce their employees.” Mikayil was assigned the task to identify the most affected areas in the country and economic sectors. The government will support and carry out measures to stabilize and revive the economy.
Discussions are held between the government agencies, the Central Bank and the Associations of Banks of Azerbaijan to reduce losses and impact of COVID-19 on the state economy. Minister Mikayil warned entrepreneurs to refrain from reducing the staff otherwise the government will take serious steps. The substance of the matter is precautionary measures and fear of tragic events reflects President Ilham Aliyev’s foresightedness, commitment to serve the nation, seriousness and resolve to fight back against the menace of plague. Today, the situation in Azerbaijan is under control. It is one of the least affected countries in the world.
Dr Ashfaq Ahmed is a member board of experts Center for Global and Strategic Studies Islamabad, and Assistant Professor Department of Politics & International Relations (DPIR), University of Sargodha, Pakistan.
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