Epidemic situation gets extremely difficult in Tskhinvali – The region needs humanitarian aid
The de facto administration of South Ossetia decided to close the "border" with Georgia on February 27, 2019, citing the first officially confirmed case of coronavirus in the Tbilisi-controlled territory. It has been a year and eight months since the communication and movement between Tskhinvali and Tbilisi has been reduced to a historical minimum. The Democracy Research Institute (DRI) considers that the pandemic is being used by the de facto authorities to isolate the region from Tbilisi, which, in addition to restricting freedom of movement, has extremely negative effects on the health and life of locals.
Access to medical services, medicines, testing and vaccination remains a serious problem in Tskhinvali. Population lives in complete physical and informational isolation, where isolation is not a means of protecting from the virus but distancing from the controlled territory of Tbilisi. The situation on the ground is much worse than the de facto administration officially acknowledges. The cases of infection and deaths caused by the infection had been hidden for two years in Tskhinvali. They started to publish statistics just a few days ago. Population suspects that the number of infected people is much higher than the official data. According to official information, 317 people were tested for coronavirus on October 29 and 77 of them tested positive for the virus, while the death toll has risen to 134 since the beginning of the pandemic.
According to Marina Kochieva, so-called South Ossetia's chief sanitary doctor, "The disease is spreading throughout the region. We have a serious shortage of medical staff. Doctors are overtired. We tried to bring doctors from Vladikavkaz, but their hospitals are also overcrowded and there is a shortage of doctors." There is not safe environment for human life and health at the local clinic, which has been declared a red zone. Severe patients are transferred to Vladikavkaz in order to keep the death statistics of South Ossetia low. Infected people in Tskhinvali hospital openly talk about their serious condition on social networks. According to them, there are no more places, beds are placed in the corridor and patients have to find free places on their own. The sanitary situation is poor at the medical facility, with more than 20 people using one shared bathroom. There are not enough medications and safety regulations are not observed.
The de facto South Ossetian KGB manages lists/queues of people wanting to move to the Tbilisi-controlled territory. However, even in case of health problems, obtaining a permit is associated with corruption.
As of today, the situation is especially bad in Akhalgori. In a settlement with a total of 800 inhabitants, up to 20 new cases of infection are officially reported every day. Due to the lack of appropriate doctors on the spot, Akhalgori hospital is practically empty. Patients are either treated at home or transferred to Tskhinvali. In an interview released by news agencies, the chief doctor of the Akhalgori district hospital, Jemal Bedoev, says that the situation is much worse and the number of infected people is higher. 2000 doses of Russian vaccine Sputnik were handed over to Tskhinvali, but due to the violation of storage conditions, the vaccine became unusable. No one, nor even the hospital medical staff, has been vaccinated with this particular vaccine in Akhalgori.
The Democracy Research Institute calls on the Georgian authorities, with the involvement of international community, to immediately draw up and effectively implement a plan to manage the Tskhinvali epidemic. To increase access to quality health care, it is important to open crossing points that have been closed in recent years and to establish a medical vaccination and testing point near the crossing points; If possible, Tskhinvali should be provided with vaccines, medical equipment and medicines. If desired, Covid patients should be able to receive treatment at hospitals in Tbilisi-controlled areas.