SEATTLE, Washington — Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country, contains mostly rural farmland and its export-driven economy relies largely on its oil industry. However, like almost every other country on earth, COVID-19 presents major challenges to the health of Kazakhstan’s citizens and economy. Kazakhstan’s overall COVID-19 case count remains low, and though the country’s response has certainly not been perfect, Kazakhstan serves as a mild success story amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Government’s Swift Response Contains the Spread
The Kazakh government reacted quickly to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within three days of the announcement on March 13, the government declared a national emergency, placed restrictions on travel in and out of the country and banned all large gatherings.
Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, imposed checkpoints and mandatory 14-day self-imposed quarantines for those infected. COVID-19 precaution efforts such as supporting small businesses and providing financial aid to workers affected by the shutdown helped communities in maintaining social distancing practices.
As of June 18, there are 15,877 reported cases of COVID-19 in Kazakhstan with 10,065 recovered and 100 confirmed deaths. Considering the country’s population is more than 18 million, Kazakhstan’s rate of containment is relatively moderate.
Oil and Healthcare Workers Infected with COVID-19 in Kazakhstan
Three weeks into the crisis, healthcare workers accounted for roughly 20% of all cases in Kazakhstan, highlighting medical personnel’s difficulty in acquiring and using proper equipment during COVID-19 treatment.
Meanwhile, in the country’s oil-producing regions, oil workers made up a large portion of COVID-19 reported cases. As of May 20, workers from a single oilfield called Tengiz accounted for 935 cases at a time when Kazakhstan’s total cases amounted to 6,969. Rather than halt production, the government established a new hospital on the field and announced these regions will continue to remain under a state of emergency while other provinces ease restrictions.
Kazakhstan Receives Financial Aid from the US
The response to COVID-19 in Kazakhstan had its shortcomings, but international aid helped respond to the damage. For example, to help Kazakhstan fight COVID-19, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided more than $1.6 million in aid. The money was used to help test, treat and trace the virus across the country, as well as to purchase much needed medical supplies.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also provided aid to the Kazakh government, sending a plane with about 13 tonnes of medical supplies. These materials were critically necessary to better protect frontline healthcare worker and aided over 10,000 healthcare professionals in their practices, according to Kazinform.
Mixed Results of the Government’s Emergency Financial Aid Package
While the Kazakh government did try to deliver financial support to its people, its efforts fell short of exemplary. The package offered only about $100 per household, while experts measured the cost of living on one’s own in Kazakhstan at about $780 per month. Millions of Kazakhs attempted to apply for the financial aid, but technical errors with the website, skepticism concerning up-front payments required on behalf of independent contractors and scammers’ interference resulted in a complicated fiasco, dubbed by some reporters as “The Quest for the 42,500 Tenge.”
To obtain living costs, the people of Kazakhstan began to violate social distancing rules to venture out in search of work. Additionally, the government threatened sharp penalties for scammers, causing a panic that resulted in many returning their financial aid. Overall, the government’s financial relief effort, while well intended, failed on a massive scale.
Plans to Reopen Kazakhstan Already Underway
While many of its relief efforts achieved only mild success, the government of Kazakhstan announced plans to reopen the country in a staggered fashion. The majority of the country, largely composed of rural and agricultural space, saw retail spaces such as hair salons and childcare centers reopen with restrictions in early May.
In the oil-producing regions of the country, which contain a large portion of the active COVID-19 cases, officials set plans to reopen for late May pending health data. The government remains unclear in its public announcements, insisting that the country managed the disease well to justify the reopening. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also encouraged Kazakhs to stay home in the near future and admitted the possibility of an incoming second COVID-19 wave.
As reopening efforts continue, Kazakhstan will allegedly continue to provide financial relief until the country is fully operational, though many doubt they will receive any payment due in part to the government’s previous struggle. The heads of state will need to be clear with Kazakh citizens, and more aid will be necessary for Kazakhstan to fight COVID-19 as safely as possible. The road ahead of COVID-19 in Kazakhstan may be long, but Kazakhstan’s current success at maintaining low active cases provides hope for Kazakhstan’s future containment measures.
– Jimmy Ring