Kazakhstan Toughens Lockdown Restrictions Over Weekend to Combat Resurgent Coronavirus Wave

The Kazakh government has announced the toughening of lockdown restrictions scheduled to take effect the upcoming weekend of June 20-21, as the nation witnessed a hike in coronavirus cases after it eased the restrictions in May. 

After easing of the restrictions in May, people flocked to the streets but ignoring essential rules such as wearing masks. Photo credit astana.gov.kz

As of today, the nation has reported 16,351 cases of which 10,195 have recovered. The death toll amounts to 105. The statistics, however, do not tell the full story: there are 7,609 asymptomatic cases, which together bring the total number of cases up to 23,960. 

In the past weeks, some of the country’s highest officials were reported to have tested positive for COVID-19, including Kazakh Health Care Minister Yelzhan Birtanov,  Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Yeraly Tugzhanov, Majilis Chair Nurlan Nigmatullin, and Kazakhstan’s First President Nursultan Nazarbayev

“The situation with coronavirus remains uneasy due to massive non-compliance by the population in regards to the strict lockdown measures, but everything still remains under control by the government,” wrote Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on his Twitter account.  

Police officers continue monitoring compliance with the rules. Photo credit: Baurzhan Zhuasbayev/astana.gov.kz

The government commission ordered a suspension of work for shopping and entertainment centers, trading houses, chain stores, food and non-food markets, bazaars and fitness centers for the upcoming weekend of June 20-21 in Nur-Sultan, Almaty, Karaganda, Shymkent, Pavlodar, and Ekibastuz. 

Only cafes with outdoor dining facilities will be allowed to continue their operation while observing social distancing, while all others will have to close for the weekend. Public transportation services will also be curtailed. 

Public places, including parks, squares, river embankment, beaches, and aquaparks, will be closed. Citizens older than 65 years are restricted from going outside, as they are at a higher risk. These restrictions will also be put into effect in cities with a population of more than 50,000 people. 

Entrance to tourist areas located close to Nur-Sultan, Almaty, Karaganda, Shymkent, Pavlodar, and Ekibastuz will be closed while those who are currently in those areas will be asked to observe strict social distancing. 

The coronavirus outbreak has put a strain on the nation’s healthcare system and with the soaring number of cases, hospitals remain tightly packed. The number of calls to the Kazakh capital’s emergency rooms has tripled since June. 

People waiting in line to pass COVID-19 test in a mobile laboratory in Nur-Sultan. Photo credit: Sputnik/Abzal Kaliyev

At the same time, people can be seen lining up in queues to laboratories to get tested, even though officials advise citizens not to take tests if no symptoms are shown. 

To address the issue, Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin instructed the regional akimats (local executive bodies) to expand PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing by opening additional laboratories at medical facilities, increasing the number of beds in hospitals, ensuring access to tomography procedures, timely responses to emergency calls, and providing quality treatment for patients isolated at home, as well as organizing active awareness-raising efforts among the population.

Though stringent restrictions have been announced as only a temporary measure for the upcoming weekend, many believe this lockdown will continue for a long time. The government is doing its best to stress the point that if citizens continue ignoring the rules they have laid out such as wearing masks and avoiding crowded places, they have only themselves to blame for more restrictions. 

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