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BISHKEK (TCA) — As the coronavirus spreads far beyond China, the concerns of the Central Asian population and governments are mounting.

Kyrgyzstan

Deputies of the Kyrgyz Parliament asked the Government to clarify measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country. The World Health Organization announced an official name for the disease caused by the new coronavirus, COVID-19.

There are no cases of coronavirus infection in Kyrgyzstan, the government says.

According to Kyrgyzstan’s headquarters to prevent the entry of the coronavirus into the country headed by Prime Minister Mukhammedkaly Abylgaziev, 22 sanitary quarantine points are operating and observational premises prepared in the country.

About 4,600 students from Kyrgyzstan study in China, and most of them have returned to Kyrgyzstan. More than 800 laboratory tests were performed, the Healthcare Ministry informed. Kyrgyzstan is among the first countries in the CIS to start laboratory tests to detect the coronavirus among all visitors from China and other countries where coronavirus cases were reported.

One of Kyrgyzstan’s insurance companies has promptly responded to the new situation and developed a new program of voluntary medical insurance against the coronavirus. This tool will significantly reduce the cost of emergency medical care, diagnosis and treatment of the disease, as well as medicines, the company said.

The Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended that Kyrgyzstanis temporarily refrain from traveling to China, Japan, Korea, Italy, and Iran until the epidemiological situation with the spread of COVID-19 is stabilized.

MPs and the public want to know how the situation with the coronavirus has affected Kyrgyzstan’s economy.

The Government believes that the epidemic will not seriously affect the country’s economy in the near future. No economic downturn is expected in the first quarter, and the second quarter is always economically inactive, Economy Minister Sanjar Mukanbetov said at a press conference in Bishkek on February 27.

Kyrgyzstan’s total trade turnover averages $7 billion a year, of which $5 billion is import, of which 35% (about $1.8 billion) is import from China. These are mainly fabrics, fibers, threads and accessories, the minister said. Food imports account for only 3%.

The ministry holds weekly meetings with business representatives, and they said that there would be enough stock until March-April. If the situation continues, then due to close economic ties with Russia and Kazakhstan, the economic downturn may be only 0.3%, Mukanbetov said. It will depend on how China handles the disease.

The Government is considering alternative markets in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Korea, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the UAE. Prices may rise, as the cost of shipping and purchasing goods will be higher.

China is among the largest business partners of Kyrgyzstan. According to the National Statistical Committee of Kyrgyzstan, bilateral trade amounted to more than $2 billion in 2018. Export from Kyrgyzstan was $61.2 million while imports from China exceeded $1.9 billion.

Last year, Kyrgyzstan imported meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, plastic products, chemicals, fibers, shoes, clothes, ceramics, ferrous metals, reactors, and boilers from China.

According to the Kyrgyz Migration Service, last year foreigners used 12.4 thousand work quotas, and most of the permits were issued to Chinese citizens, because many projects involving entrepreneurs from China were implemented in the country. The issuance of visas to Chinese citizens has now been suspended.

Many Chinese citizens are working at the Bishkek Free Economic Zone.

The closure of the border with China affected the work of Kyrgyzstan’s only oil company, Kyrgyzneftegaz. The company supplies the necessary equipment from China, Azattyk reports. After closing the border with China, to prevent a halt in oil production, the company is considering buying Russian equipment.

The Kyrgyz-Chinese border remains closed for more than a month, and traders note a slight increase in prices for Chinese goods.

Temirbek Shabdanaliev, head of the Freight Carrier Association, told 24.kg news agency about the consequences of the closed borders. Drivers who transported goods from China to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia lost their jobs.

Not only finished goods, but also fabrics and accessories are imported from China to Kyrgyzstan. Therefore, for the sewing workshops, the big problem now is to find new suppliers. Many are looking for alternative markets in Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, India, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

The current situation has once again shown that it is necessary to support domestic producers and reduce dependence on Chinese imports.

A citizen of Kyrgyzstan from the Diamond Princess cruise ship has been infected with the coronavirus. He is currently in a medical facility in Japan, the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry said on February 28.

It was previously reported that there was a COVID-19 outbreak on the Diamond Princess, which set off from Yokohama, Japan for a two-week cruise on January 20.

Closed borders

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Kyrgyzstan closed its land border with China on January 24.

Since January 22, at all border crossing points, people arriving in Kyrgyzstan from China are checked with thermal imagers to identify those who have a high temperature. On January 24, Kyrgyzstan also banned the import of meat from China.

Kazakhstan has suspended bus service with China since January 27, and railway and air services since the beginning of February. The exchange of rail freight between the two countries has not yet been suspended.

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have not yet closed their borders.

On February 1, Uzbekistan temporarily suspended air links with China.

Uzbekistan is one of the most important air transit hubs through which thousands of Chinese citizens traveled daily around the world.

Since January 30, all flights from Beijing to Ashgabat have to land in Turkmenabad, Turkmen.news reported. On the same day, Turkmenistan closed its border with Uzbekistan. Flights to Bangkok were also canceled.

The Turkmenistan state airline has temporarily suspended flights to Beijing.

Tajik authorities do not see the need to close their borders to the Chinese. Officials believe that the Tajik economy needs Chinese specialists, Sputnik Tajikistan reported.

According to official data, more than two thousand Chinese citizens work at enterprises of the Industry Ministry, and the same number — at the enterprises of the Transport Ministry of Tajikistan.

As of February 24, about 300 people in Tajikistan remained in quarantine because of the coronavirus, RIA Novosti reported.

Tajikistan’s airlines have been instructed to suspend flights to Iran until the situation is stabilized there.

Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Armenia have closed their borders with Iran due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.

The total number of people infected with the coronavirus in the world continues to grow and on the morning of February 28 reached 83,265 people, the South China Morning Post reported. 

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan's aviation authorities restrict regular flights to some countries due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Government is taking measures so that the coronavirus does not hit the country’s economy, Finance Minister of Kazakhstan Alikhan Smailov told Kazinform IA. If the measures are successful, then it will not affect the economy. More radical measures in relations with neighboring countries, primarily with China, may have a certain impact.

The Government has no plans to limit the import and export of goods from China, the minister added, noting a positive aspect of the situation.

The Government recommended that Kazakhstanis refrain from travelling. From tourism to China, money goes to China. “If our citizens do not go there, the money will remain in the country,” he told Kazinform.

The situation with the coronavirus can adversely affect the economies of both countries, China and Kazakhstan, Chairman of the Security Council of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, said, the press service of the Security Council reported.

“We should not sit back. It is necessary to ensure the supply of medicines and other necessary resources. This issue should be monitored. In such cases, we should have countermeasures to prevent the negative influence of an external factor on the national economy,” Nazarbayev said.

Uzbekistan

The situation in Uzbekistan is likely to change due to the general slowdown in the Chinese economy and the temporary suspension of flights of Uzbekistan Airways to China.

According to the State Statistics Committee of Uzbekistan, China leads in the number of companies established in Uzbekistan in early 2020. In January, 38 new companies with Chinese capital were created. The total number of such companies increased to 1,690.

Prices of goods imported from China rose by 5% at large wholesale trading markets in Tashkent, Ozodlik Radio reported on February 25.

There were delays in supplies that affected prices after neighboring Kyrgyzstan closed its border with China. Direct supplies of goods from China have been suspended, and entrepreneurs became dependent on those involved in importing goods to avoid closed borders.

Almost 60% of the goods were usually delivered to Tashkent's largest wholesale trading market, Urikzor, from China through neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Local media reported a rise in prices for building materials, explaining this by a shortage of goods from China. Entrepreneurs have already begun to look for other countries for the supply of goods.

No cases of the coronavirus have been identified in Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan

The authorities of Turkmenistan, the country most closed to the outside world in the region, do not inform about quarantine zones and the number of people there. State media and officials do not mention the word “coronavirus”, with rare exceptions.

There are quarantine zones in Turkmenistan for arrivers from China, most of whom are Turkmen students who study in China and Turkmen entrepreneurs, independent media reported.

Proposed preventive measures adversely affect trade with China. A Turkmen businessman importing Chinese products told Azatlyk news outlet that he had suffered heavy losses as a result of confiscation of goods by border guards.

IMF comments

"In January, we projected global growth to strengthen from 2.9 percent last year to 3.3 percent this year. Since then, COVID-19 — a global health emergency — has disrupted activity in China,” said Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on February 22, in Riyadh.

Many scenarios can play out, depending on how quickly the virus is contained and how fast the Chinese and other affected economies return to normal, she said.

In the IMF current baseline scenario, announced policies are implemented and China’s economy would return to normal in the second quarter. As a result, the impact on the world economy would be relatively minor and short-lived. Global growth would be about 0.1 percentage points lower.

"But we are also looking at more dire scenarios where the spread of the virus continues for longer and more globally, and the growth consequences are more protracted. To be adequately prepared, now is the time to recognize the potential risk for fragile states and countries with weak health care systems,” Georgieva said.

The IMF stands ready to help, including through our Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust that can provide grants for debt relief to our poorest and most vulnerable members, the IMF Managing Director concluded.

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