COVID-19: Serbs Jailed For Breaking Quarantine; Member Of Putin’s Staff Infected

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The global death toll from the coronavirus has neared 27,000 with more than 591,000 infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here’s a roundup of developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast countries.

Ukraine

Ukraine says it has confirmed 92 new coronavirus cases as the country begins to impose new restrictions at its borders in the battle to contain the effects of the global pandemic.

The Health Ministry’s Center for Public Health said that with the new infections, there were 310 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 respiratory illness as of the end of March 27.

Since the crisis began, five deaths have been attributed to COVID-19, with patients’ ages ranging from 33 to 71 years.

The jump in new cases comes on the eve of new measures ordered by the government.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in an online video address to the nation explained the country’s decision to shut cross-border travel after March 27, including for Ukrainian nationals.

Previously, the cabinet had issued a nationwide directive limiting passengers in all public transportation. All above-ground transportation such as, mini-buses, buses, trolleybuses, and trams should only ride up to half capacity.

Russia

The Kremlin says a member of President Vladimir Putin’s administration has been infected with the coronavirus, but the person had not been in direct contact with Russia’s leader.

The announcement came as the government widened restrictions aimed at fighting the disease, ordering all restaurants and cafes to close, beginning March 28.

As of March 27, the country’s total number of confirmed cases was 1,036, up 196 from a day earlier. Another reported death on March 27 increased the total to four.

According to Moscow’s coronavirus-response headquarters, the 56-year-old woman who died on March 27 was also suffering from cancer and had one lung removed during an earlier operation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that a man working in the presidential administration had been infected with the coronavirus.

“Indeed, a coronavirus case has been identified in the presidential administration,” Peskov was quoted as saying.

“All necessary sanitary and epidemiological measures are being taken to prevent the virus from spreading further. The sick man did not come into contact with the president,” he added, saying this was the only known case at the Kremlin.

As Russia’s confirmed cases have climbed, the government has steadily increased the restrictions and other measures seeking to curtail the disease’s spread.

Putin has called for a weeklong work holiday, ordering all nonessential businesses to close down for a week, beginning March 28.

In the order released by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s government on March 27, regional authorities across the country were instructed to “halt the activities of public food service organizations.” The restrictions will take effect on March 28.

The government has also ordered all vacation and health resorts closed until June. Other restrictions included the cancellation of all international flights.

In Russia’s capital and largest city, Moscow, city authorities have encouraged people to stay home and placed restrictions on public transit.

The majority of confirmed cases are in Moscow.

The Russian media regulator, meanwhile, said the social messaging network Twitter has deleted a post that it said contained false information about a pending curfew.

Roskomnadzor said it filed a request with the U.S. company on March 26, asking for the post to be taken down.

According to the regulator, the post made mention of a pending order by the Defense Ministry that a curfew was to be imposed in Moscow. That information is false, Roskomnadzor said in a statement on March 27.

Twitter had no immediate comment on the statement by Roskomnadzor.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office, meanwhile, said officials had made similar requests about allegedly false information circulating on other social media outlets, including Facebook and VK.

Facebook “removed the incorrect, socially significant information concerning the number of coronavirus cases,” Roskomnadzor said.

Iran

Iran reported 144 new coronavirus deaths as authorities continued to struggle to contain the outbreak, with the number of confirmed cases jumping by nearly 2,400.

The new tally, announced on March 27 by Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour, pushed Iran’s total confirmed cases to at least 32,332.

Iran is one of the worst-hit countries in the world, along with China, Italy, Spain, and now the United States.

Earlier this week, authorities enacted a new travel ban after fears that many Iranians had ignored previous advice to stay at home and cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on March 20.

On March 25, government spokesman Ali Rabiei warned about the danger of ignoring the travel guidelines.

“This could cause a second wave of the coronavirus,” Rabiei said.

State TV, meanwhile, reported that the military has set up a 2,000-bed hospital in an exhibition center in the capital, Tehran, to shore up the local health-care system.

President Hassan Rohani has pledged that authorities will contain the spread of the coronavirus within two weeks. However, the continued rise in numbers, along with fears that the country’s health-care system is incapable of dealing with the surge of infections, have raised doubts about meeting that goal.

Earlier this week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused U.S. aid and seized on a conspiracy theory that the United States had created the virus, something for which there is no scientific evidence.

Om March 27, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the United States to release Iranians held in U.S. jails on sanctions-related issues due to fears about the coronavirus epidemic.

“Release our men,” Zarif said on Twitter.

The minister referred to a report by the Guardian newspaper about an Iranian science professor who it said remained jailed by U.S. immigration authorities after being acquitted in November 2019 on charges of stealing trade secrets related to his academic work.

The professor, Sirous Asgari, complained that conditions in detention were “filthy and overcrowded” and that officials were “doing little” to prevent the coronavirus outbreak, according to The Guardian.

Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of foreigners and dual citizens over recent years, mostly on espionage charges.

Rights activists have accused Iranian authorities of arresting them to try to win concessions from other countries — a charge dismissed by Tehran.

Serbia

Three people in Serbia have been sentenced to jail for violating a self-isolation order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The two- to three-year sentences were handed down during a video court session, a first in the Balkan country. The session was conducted remotely to protect employees and defendants from potential exposure to the coronavirus.

One of the defendants was sentenced to three years in prison — the maximum — in the eastern town Dimitrovgrad, a Serbian justice source confirmed to RFE/RL. The others were sentenced at a court in the city of Pozarevac to two and 2 1/2 years.

Dragana Jevremovic-Todorovic, a judge and spokeswoman for the court in Pozarevac, told RFE/RL that the two people convicted there had been charged with a criminal offense of noncompliance with health regulations.

“They violated the measure of self-isolation when they came from abroad. One arrived in Serbia on March 14, the other on March 17, both from the Hungarian border crossing,” she said.

“They were informed that they had been given a measure of self-isolation and a restraining order, which they did not respect. The measure was to last 14 days, and they violated it before the deadline,” Jevremovic-Todorovic said.

“By violating self-isolation, they have created a danger to human health, as this can spread the infectious disease,” Jevremovic-Todorovic said.

The Ministry of Justice on March 26 sent a memo to courts that conduct proceedings against people who violate self-isolation measures, allowing them to hold trials remotely using Internet-enabled computers, cameras, and microphones.

The judiciary noted that the first-time video judgments were not final, but the defendants remain in custody while they await trial.

According to the Justice Ministry’s Criminal Sanctions Directorate, 111 people are in custody at detention facilities in three Serbian cities – Pirot, Vrsac, and Pozarevac — on suspicion of violating the emergency public-health order.

Serbia has recorded 528 coronavirus cases and eight deaths. Restrictive measures introduced by Belgrade include a ban on people over age 65 leaving their homes and a 12-hour overnight curfew enforced by police.

Meanwhile, Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic pledged on March 27 to donate 1 million euros ($1.1 million) to buy ventilators and other medical equipment for health workers in Serbia.

“Unfortunately, more and more people are getting infected every day,” Djokovic told Serbian media.

The world men’s No. 1 player, who was in top form before the pandemic interrupted the current season, thanked medical staff around the world for their efforts.

Georgia

Georgia’s government has canceled a $1.2 million contract to buy thousands of rapid-result coronavirus tests from a Chinese company.

The cancellation is the latest controversy for Bioeasy, whose test kits have been deemed faulty in Spain and returned.

Georgia’s order for 215,000 rapid-result tests also will be returned to Bioeasy, based in the Shenzhen region, near Hong Kong.

Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze told reporters on March 27 that Bioeasy had agreed to take them back.

Rapid-result tests, which can be used for diseases like influenza as well as coronavirus, are known for providing quick results, though with less accuracy.

In Spain, which is one of the countries worst-hit by the coronavirus, health officials found the tests were far less accurate than needed, and ordered the tests returned.

Tikaradze said Georgians should not be afraid of being misdiagnosed.

She said new diagnostic tests were being examined at Tbilisi’s Lugar Center for Public Health Research, a medical research facility funded mostly by the U.S. government.

“I want to reassure our population,” she said. “Any new tests coming into the territory of Georgia are being tested at the Lugar Center and hence we are testing the reliability of the tests and then using them for widespread use.”

Georgia has 81 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and no deaths, as of March 27.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan has tightened its quarantine rules from March 29 in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The movement of vehicles between regions and cities across the country will be banned, with some exceptions, including ambulances, social services, and agricultural vehicles, the government said on March 27.

Baku’s subway system will operate only five hours a day.

Restaurants, cafes, tea houses, and shops — except supermarkets, grocery stores, and pharmacies — will remain closed.

Access to parks, boulevards, and other recreation areas will be restricted.

The South Caucasus country has reported 165 coronavirus cases, with three deaths. Officials say 15 patients have recovered.

In addition, more than 3,000 people remain in quarantine.

On March 26, Azerbaijani authorities extended holidays related to Persian New Year celebrations until April 4, from a previous end date of March 29.

Hungary

Hungary’s prime minister has ordered new restrictions to try and curtail the spread of the coronavirus, calling for Hungarians to remain at home for two weeks.

In a March 27 announcement on state radio, Viktor Orban said people would only be allowed to travel to work and make essential trips to buy food or medicine or take children to daycare until April 11.

He also proposed special shopping hours at food stores for people 65 and over, and called on people to observe “social distancing” — staying about 2 meters away from other people to prevent the spread of infection.

Hungary currently has 300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, though Orban has said the actual number of cases is likely much higher.

Ten infected people have died.

Orban has increasingly tightened his grip on power during his decade in office. Opposition leaders and critics have accused him of moving the country towards an autocracy.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s government has widened restrictions in the country’s two largest cities, ordering most companies to suspend operations next week as part of efforts to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

The restrictions, announced March 27, came as the number of confirmed cases announced by the government reached 120. Most of the cases are in the capital, Nur-Sultan, and Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.

A day earlier, as the country reported its first death from COVID-19, the government barred residents of Nur-Sultan and Almaty from leaving their homes except for work or to buy food or medicines, starting from March 28.

The closure of most businesses in the two cities also takes effect March 28.

Authorities have also closed all intercity transport terminals and public spaces in Shymkent, Kazakhstan’s third-largest city, in order to curb the spread of coronavirus, the government said.

Uzbekistan

In neighboring Uzbekistan, officials announced the country’s first death from coronavirus: a 72-year-old man in the city of Namangan who had suffered from other ailments.

As of early March 27, Uzbekistan — Central Asia’s most populous nation — has confirmed 75 cases of infection.

Earlier, municipal authorities announced restrictions in Samarkand and the Ferghana valley cities Namangan and Andijon on March 26.

All vehicle traffic in and out of the cities has been restricted, with the exception of cargo transport, or security and government officials.

Tashkent has been closed to the entry and exit of all passenger transport since March 24.

Kyrgyzstan

Another Central Asian country, Kyrgyzstan, announced 14 new cases on March 27, bringing the country’s total to 58.

Earlier this week, authorities declared a state of emergency in the capital, Bishkek, and several other cities and regions.

Two other Central Asian countries, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, have not reported any confirmed infections yet.

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