Op-Ed: Georgia’s fight against coronavirus - groping in the dark
Zurab Tchiaberashvili, a member of the Georgian parliament from the opposition party European Georgia and former Minister of Health, Labour and Social Affairs (2012), shares his views on how the Georgian government is fighting the spread of coronavirus, the effectiveness of the state of emergency and quarantine, and what steps still need to be taken:
Most countries are concerned with finding a balance so that the healthcare system is not overloaded and high-risk groups are protected from the virus as much as possible, while at the same time giving society a chance to build up a herd immunity.
We must also understand that the consequences of fully shutting down the economy will be hunger and poverty, which also takes its toll in human lives.
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The government does not have a clear strategy on how to reopen up the country and find the right balance between healthcare and the economy.
We need to know the exact ratio of the number of infected and the load on the hospital sector. We need an accurate model. For example, if the current number of cases is 420, how will an increase to 600 cases affect the load on the healthcare system?
On the other hand, we also need to look at the relationship between the restrictions and the number of people infected. If we do not establish a direct connection between these two factors, and thereby do not establish a connection between the restrictions and the burden on hospitals, then we are simply groping in the dark.
If the number of cases remains low, then reopening the country may not be practical, which is something epidemiologists from around the world are discussing now. As soon as Georgia reopens the border with even one of its neighboring trade partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan or Turkey, where they have developed more of a herd immunity than we have, we expose ourselves to another possible outbreak.
The government is acting on the Soviet principle: “everything that is not permitted is prohibited.” For example, they are now monitoring doctors on their commute between the hospital and home in order to ensure that they do not make any other stops. This is complete bureaucratic absurdity.
In Sweden, there are no restrictions at all, because the government is confident in the sanity and integrity of its citizens.
Even if a person is in need of medical help, the ban on traveling by car makes it difficult to get to the hospital, especially because everyone is afraid of incurring a 3 thousand lari fine.
Not to mention the fact that families may have a multitude of other needs that they are now unable to fulfill. The principle should be that “everything that is not prohibited is permitted.”
I believe that the decision to keep preschools, schools, and universities closed is justified. But when it comes to businesses where employees are working in large, open spaces, for example, in the construction or woodworking industries, what is the issue with them going back to work?
If we can go to the store to buy eggs, why can’t we go there to buy a phone charger? Why can’t we go to the electronics store, as long as we line up outside and enter one at a time, as we do for the pharmacy?
The government’s approach suggests that it is acting out of panic and does not have a clear plan. The most important thing, is that when we talk about opening things back up and gradually lifting restrictions, it should be tied to specific benchmarks, so that there is an explanation for when and why the restrictions are being lifted.
I see a serious public health problem regarding internal management of the spread of infections in hospitals, as well as in the proper handling of equipment and training of medical staff.
If we still see cases of infection among healthcare workers, even with such low numbers of cases – 400 – this means that there are weaknesses in the system. We are all very glad that we have relatively few cases, but the government representatives and epidemiologists themselves tell us that they predict the number will reach the thousands.
But if the number does jump this high, our healthcare system needs to be more prepared than the picture the Ministry of Health is currently painting.
The main point is that we do not see the logic behind the decision to impose such stringent restrictions with such a small number of cases. If our numbers are that low, then why are we doing so much harm to the economy? And if we are afraid of the infection spreading, then why in the three months since the Coordination Council was created, have we been unable to gather the necessary material and human resources to treat a thousand patients?