Uzbekistan’s Efforts to Fight Against COVID-19: Regional and International Cooperation
The first case of coronavirus infection was detected in Uzbekistan on March 15, spurring the country’s leadership to take immediate measures against the Covid-19 outbreak to curb the spread of the virus in the country and protect the population. The government established the Republican Anti-Crisis Commission comprised of high-level government officials. The Commission announced a strict quarantine regime covering nearly the entire country. Public health measures were the first step to control the spread of the virus among the population. Economic measures were the second step to maintain national business activity.
In addition, the government urged citizens to unite and not panic for the sake of public security. Concrete measures were taken to prevent the dissemination of fake news in the media and on social networks. In the meantime, special channels were established within a short period to disseminate reliable information on the current status of the pandemic.
On March 16, Uzbekistan closed air and road connections with all foreign countries. Later, railway connections were also restricted. To help those stranded, charter flights were arranged for citizens of Uzbekistan abroad who wanted to return home. However, those returning were quarantined for two weeks. Further, special flights were organized for foreigners who needed to leave Uzbekistan, and the validity of visas of foreign citizens staying in Uzbekistan was automatically extended. Citizens of the countries entitled to enter Uzbekistan visa-free for a certain time were allowed to leave the country before April 10. Additionally, security measures were taken to cancel all mass events, including sports, cultural, and other kinds of large gatherings. Citizens were advised to refrain from visiting crowded places, and religious institutions were urged to limit public events. In addition, employers obtained permission for vulnerable employees — especially pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities, and those suffering from chronic diseases – to work from home.
An International Monetary Fund mission, August 24 – September 17, led by Ron van Rooden, positively assessed Uzbekistan’s countermeasures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. According to van Rooden, while the authorities’ focus has been rightly concentrated on addressing the COVID-19 crisis, they have not lost sight of the country’s reform agenda and the medium-term goal of achieving stronger, sustainable, and inclusive economic growth to improve people’s living standards.
Recognizing the importance of international cooperation to combat the pandemic, Uzbekistan has engaged in pragmatic multidirectional foreign policy and close cooperation with its regional and global partners. Since his accession to the presidency, Shavkat Mirziyoyev has initiated wide-range reforms in almost all spheres of public life, with a focus on improving good governance, social policy, the investment climate, and improving Uzbekistan’s international image. These reforms are reflected in the adoption and implementation of the Strategy of Actions of Uzbekistan for 2017-2021. These significant reforms have strengthened regional connectivity and cooperation in Central Asia.
Uzbekistan, through its open, constructive, and pragmatic policy towards Central Asian countries, is determined to find solutions for the pressing and complex issues facing the region. These issues include water use, delimitation and demarcation of state borders between Uzbekistan and neighboring countries, the use of transport communications, and crossing state borders. Consequently, Central Asian connectivity and borders reopened; air, rail, and bus routes were re-established and added new routes; and people-to-people connections were facilitated to encourage regional economic and trade relations.
At the very beginning of the global pandemic, Uzbekistan’s leadership demonstrated its commitment to regional and international cooperation and called for a common response to COVID-19 in Central Asia. President Mirziyoyev held regular telephone conversations with some of the leaders of partner countries and provided humanitarian support on behalf of the Uzbek nation to Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, and others. Moreover, Uzbek doctors visited Tajikistan to assist in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. This attention to Central Asia is part of President Mirziyoyev’s strategy to establish Uzbekistan as a regional leader.
Uzbekistan’s international partners have responded to the crisis with medical equipment, and they have shared their own practical experience of fighting Covid-19. Likewise, during the pandemic, Uzbekistan has received humanitarian support from China, the European Union, Germany, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, South Korea, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and others. International institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and others have provided assistance to fight COVID-19 in Uzbekistan. China and Russia have shared their best practices to combat the coronavirus and have, organized doctors’ visits and offered cooperation in testing a coronavirus vaccine.
According to Chinese Ambassador to Uzbekistan Jiang Yan, “Beijing from the beginning of the spread of infection has sent over 41 tons of humanitarian supplies and also shared its experience in countering COVID-19.” The United States has also supported Uzbekistan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by providing life-saving equipment, laboratory and medical supplies, and technical assistance. As of September 3, American humanitarian assistance totaled about $8.6 million.
The fight against the pandemic has led to closer cooperation among the member states of the Turkic Council. On April 10, President Mirziyoyev, together with other member states, took part in an online summit of the Turkic Council to discuss current issues and coordination of efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Turkey has, throughout the pandemic, been active with humanitarian assistance directly and through the Turkic Council. Besides medical supplies, a group of Turkish doctors was sent to Uzbekistan to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, online seminars for Uzbek medical staff have been recently organized with leading experts from Turkey.
In his recent speech at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly on September 23, President Mirziyoyev delivered several initiatives on the global pandemic, sustainable development, regional cooperation, security, ecology, and transport connectivity, all of which have both regional and global importance for inclusive economic development.
Accordingly, one of the initiatives was to create a Regional Center for the Development of Transport and Communications under the auspices of the United Nations. The Center would contribute to the effective and mutually beneficial use of international transport corridors together with neighboring countries, as well as the formation of a single, ramified, and outwardly integrated transport space in Central Asia. The Regional Center would significantly strengthen relationships among the Eurasian nations, and would make Central Asia more attractive in terms of investment in different sectors of national economies.
President Mirziyoyev has also proposed an urgent initiative to develop an International Code on Voluntary Commitments of States during pandemics under the auspices of the United Nations, reflecting each state’s commitments to its citizens and international partners under the United Nations. The President mentioned the necessity of regular dialogue, trust, and close cooperation among all states to overcome the pandemic as well as coordinated efforts among all governments, parliaments, and civil society institutions.
Scholars also point out that for Central Asian nations, the only real exit from the economic conundrums caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is through regional and international cooperation. Although Uzbekistan and other neighboring states continue to experience relatively low infection and death rates compared to other countries, the global COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the healthcare systems of the region and presents challenges to national economic development and trade. Therefore, policy measures in Central Asia first of all should address both disease containment and economic consequences at national and regional levels.
In this vein, it is essential to strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation among countries during and after the post-pandemic recovery period for successful and effective implementation of a comprehensive reform programs. Uzbekistan’s efforts to counter the pandemic and build regional and international cooperation can serve as an example in this regard. This, in turn, will help to overcome COVID-19 consequences and strengthen friendly relations among countries.
Eldor Tulyakov is a guest contributor to the Caspian Policy Center. Mr. Tulyakov serves as the Executive Director of the Development Strategy Center in Uzbekistan