Policy responses for Azerbaijan - HSRM

Azerbaijan


Policy responses for Azerbaijan

1.2 Physical distancing

On 1 May, the Government extended the Special Quarantine Regime until 31 May (later extended to 31 August), but announced the softening of some restrictions effective 4 May to be implemented step by step in major cities and other regions, taking into account the current sanitary epidemiological conditions, number of cases, and the infection rate. People aged over 65 years are now allowed to leave their homes and from 18 May (although this is still discouraged unless absolutely necessary) and for everyone else the authorization system requiring permission by SMS to leave home could be cancelled by registering on the icaze.e-gov.az portal.
Other activities that resumed include:
• Legal entities and individuals providing work and services to other business entities
• Individual trade facilities in all areas
• Barbershops, beauty salons and cosmetic services
• The activities of an approved number of employees of state bodies
Teleworking is still encouraged by the government, where possible.

For certain businesses that are not located in shopping centres and malls, people join an online queue through an app / website / call centre for access. The following areas of activity and services resumed:
- sale of books, newspapers, office supplies, cosmetics and perfumes, clothes, shoes, jewellery, mobile phones, computer equipment, electronics and household appliances, furniture, cars, flowers and plants, chemical products, agricultural machinery, fertilizers and agrochemical products;  
- tutors and private teachers (except for group classes);
- copying and printing activities;
- photo studio;
- cleaning services for private housing;
- services of tailors.

From 4 May, the movement of persons working in the areas where the restrictions have been lifted is allowed by the employer after entering details into the portal "permission.gov.az" using an electronic signature. The Metro in Baku reopened on 9 May and people were once again allowed to use parks and boulevards, provided they were not in gatherings of more than 10 people.

From 18 May, restaurants, cafes, tea rooms (without the use of a hookah) can reopen from 08:00 to 18:00. From 31 May, outdoor sports competitions can be organized, but without spectators.

From the end of May, wearing face masks became mandatory in all enclosed public spaces. The rules include: public transport and taxis; markets and indoor restaurants (except when services demand their removal); reception areas of state bodies; enclosed areas offering any kind of customer services; open plan offices and production spaces; healthcare institutions; queues at bus stops, ticket offices, ATMs, payment terminals, or places of business; and any outdoor area where it is not possible to maintain social distancing. Violators of the regulation will be fined 50 manats ($30), while officials violating the law will be obliged to pay 100 manats ($60). Companies and organizations who break the law will be fined 200 manats ($120). From 21 November 2020, during the the Special Quarantine Regime, the use of masks in all indoor and outdoor areas of the country is mandatory and enforcement was strengthened.

Following an increase in new cases, a complete lockdown in the cities of Baku, Sumgayit, Ganja, and Lankaran, as well as the Absheron district (collectively – the orange zone), was announced for the weekend 6-8 June, and then again for 14-16 June. According to this decision:
o Activities in all spheres of work, service and trade, as well as public transport and vehicle traffic in the orange zone will be stopped from 00:00 on 6 June to 06:00 on 8 June, except for the movement of special purpose, emergency rescue, ambulance and service vehicles of organisations authorised to operate;
o Residents can leave their place of residence or temporary stay in the event of an imminent threat to their health and safety, if they need emergency medical aid by using the ambulance service only, and to attend the funeral of a close relative by seeking permission from 102 call centre of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA);
o The movement of persons working in the permitted work and service areas, as well as their vehicles, will be subject to their registration on the “icaze.e-gov.az” portal. The activities of state-owned life-support enterprises and institutions will be regulated by engaging a limited number of employees;
o The MIA will monitor the process of the implementation of this decision;
o On 5 June and 13 June, government agencies and institutions in the orange zone will close at 14:00;
o Pharmacies registered in the icaze.e-gov.az portal will be allowed to provide delivery services during the upcoming lockdown on 14-15 June.

Nevertheless, new cases doubled between 1 and 18 June, and on 19 June the Special Quarantine Regime was extended from 5-20 July and then to 5 August and then to 31 August and 15 September. The orange zone covers the cities of Baku, Sumgayit, Ganja, Lankaran, Sumgayit, Jalilabad, Masalli, Yevlakh, Goranboy, Goygol, and Mingachevir, as well as the districts of Absheron, Barda, Khachmaz, Samukh, Siyazan, and Sheki. The Baku Metro was closed until 31 August (later extended to 14 September, then 2 November and then closed until 1 December) and public transport did not operate at weekends until 20 July, but with the further extension, all public transport was suspended in the orange zone. The following were once again closed:

• large shopping centres, except for grocery stores and pharmacies operating there (Baku police have conducted raids in supermarkets to enforcement compliance);
• on-site customer service in catering facilities;
• museums and exhibition halls;
• hairdressers, beauty salons and rendering of cosmetic services (whether in salon or at home);
• educational institutions (except for online exams, contests and interviews);
• outdoor sports competitions and games.

Hairdressers and beauty salons were allowed to reopen from 20 July. People living in the orange zone can leave their homes once a day for two hours (increased to three hours from 20 July) using the SMS permission system or eTABIB application (for urgent or essential medical care; to buy food and other daily consumables, as well as medicine; to use state, banking, postal services, etc; to spend time outdoors). The Baku Metro is closed from 00:00 on 4 July to 06:00 on 20 July and public transport will not operate at weekends until 20 July. In public places, including streets, boulevards, people were not allowed to meet in groups of more than five.

It is not required to obtain SMS permission:
• in the event of an imminent threat to health and safety;
• if people are required to go to court or law-enforcement bodies;
• if employees of the agencies that are allowed to operate have a relevant service card and registration on the “icaze.e-gov.az” portal;
• if people have tickets for domestic and international flights (their tickets will serve as a pass).

To detect illegal movement between the orange and yellow zones, the MSTD installed surveillance cameras and other technical means on alternative roads without police checkpoints. As of 27 July, 345 vehicles had been prevented from entering or leaving the orange zone. Opposition to the extended Special Quarantine Regime has been growing and increasing frustration is being voiced on social media.
 
The Caucasus Muslims Board announced that there will be no Eid al-Adha mass prayer because of the COVID-19 pandemic and recommended the citizens to perform the holiday prayer at home; in Azerbaijan public Eid al-Adha prayers were cancelled. To ensure physical distancing, the Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers ordered the Ministry of Agriculture to arrange online lamb sales. Hundreds of people were reportedly detained and fined for commemorating Ashura in large groups in violation of lockdown rules in Baku, Lankaran, Lerik, Agjabadi, Khachmaz, Absheron, Saatly, Barda, Tartar, Beylagan, Shamkir, and other places.

From 10 August, some restrictions in the orange zone were eased:
* Holding sports competitions and outdoor games;
* Selling non-food products and offering consumer services to the population (with the exception of large shopping centres);
* the Production of various goods.
The requirement to get permission from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to attend a close relative’s funeral was also relaxed.

From 18 August cafes and restaurants were allowed to reopen from 09:00-22:00 for outdoors service only. Only 6 people are allowed at one table and shisha is still prohibited.  From 20 August the law courts were allowed to resume work. Museums and exhibition halls were allowed to reopen to the public as of 31 August.

The Prime Minister Ali Asadov sent a letter to heads of 48 central and local authorities that would allow them to increase the maximum number of employees at work in the office from 20% to 50%. The letter recommended prioritizing remote working, conducting meetings online, avoiding work trips, being flexible about employees aged over 60 years and providing care for children working in the office, and prohibiting staff who have family members with symptoms to attend offices.

The cities of Jalilabad, Ganja, Masalli, Mingachevir, Yevlakh and Barda, and Goranboy, Goygol, Khachmaz and Salyan districts were removed from the orange zone as of 31 August, but due to higher number of cases in Baku, Sumgait and Absheron, these regions were to remain in the “strict quarantine regime zone” until 30 September. This restricted exit and entry to these areas and closed public transport at weekends throughout September. Traffic police tightened rules for leaving Baku to stop abuse by drivers during the weekends. However, the improving situation allowed restrictions on private travel to Baku, Sumgayit and Absheron districts to be lifted on 8 September. The continuing restrictions in Baku, Absheron and Sumgait restrictions are as follows:
o big shopping centres are closed, (excluding grocery stores and pharmacies);
o restaurants, cafes, teahouses and similar are closed from 00:00 (GMT+4) till 09:00 (GMT+4), and using a hookah and serving more than six people at each table is not allowed;
o educational and tutoring services for more than 10 people are also closed

In Baku, Absheron and Sumgait, from 14-30 September, places for recreation and entertainment (including children’s playgrounds), cultural facilities (including cinemas and theatres, but excluding museums and exhibition halls), gyms, cinemas remained closed.  Organizing and holding religious ritual services or celebrations (parties), except for funerals, were not allowed. Public events, including cultural and sports events (except for outdoor sports competitions without the participation of spectators were not allowed. Meeting in groups of more than 10 people (except for close relatives, ie parents, grandparents, children and siblings) in public places, including streets, boulevards, parks and other places was still forbidden. However, catering facilities on the beaches were allowed to open.

The quarantine regime in Baku tightened considerably in October, coinciding with the introduction of martial law restrictions and a curfew. Those who break the quarantine rules are heavily fined. As of 27 October, access to all national parks had been suspended. Martial law was ended on 12 December 2020, but the Special Quarantine Regime stays in place until 21 January 2021.

From midnight on 24 October entry-exit restrictions have been imposed on Mingachevir city, as well as Agstafa, Bilasuvar, Khachmaz, Ismayilli, Gakh and Zagatala districts, except for the movement of special vehicles and trucks; these restrictions will last until the end of the “special quarantine regime” on 2 November. Similar restrictions were imposed on Sabirabad city and Javad, Turkadi, Galagayin and Kurkandi villages of the Sabirabad district, as well as in Shaki city and Kish village from midnight on 14 October. As well as Shaglakucha and Shikhakaran villages of the Lankaran district, Guba city, and Rustov and Zardabi villages of the Guba district,from midnight on 15 October.

The Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers has also decided to suspend the operation of public transport in Ganja, Yevlakh, Mingachevir, Lankaran, Shaki, and Shirvan cities, as well as in Goygol, Samukh, Sabirabad, and Guba districts at weekends and has introduced several restrictions within the special quarantine regime:
o The Baku Metro will not operate from 00.00 19 October to 06.00 on 2 November (later extended to 28 December);
o All educational institutions will be on vacation from 19 October to 2 November;
o The number of employees working in the state agencies will be reduced to 30 %, other employees will
continue working remotely;
o People over 65 years old are advised not to leave their house without necessity

From midnight on 29 October, entry and exit restrictions will be in force in: the city of Lankaran; Jalilabad; Masalli districts; Sabirabad city, Javad, Turkadi, Galagayin and Kurkandi villages of the Sabirabad district; the city of Shaki and the village of Kish of the Shaki district; the villages of Shaglakuche and Shikhakeran of the Shankaran district; the city of Guba and the villages of Rustov and Zardabi of the Guba district, the city of Mingachevir, as well as the Aghstafa, Bilasuvar, Khachmaz, Ismayilli, Gakh and Zagatala districts. Public transport will also not operate at weekends in the cities of Ganja, Yevlakh, Mingachevir, Lankaran, Shaki, Shirvan, as well as Goygol, Samukh, Sabirabad, Guba, Aghstafa, Bilasuvar, Jalilabad, Masalli, Khachmaz, Isamayilli, Gakh, and Zagatala districts. From 9 – 23 November the Special Quarantine Regime rules were toughened in was in the administrative territories of Shaki, Lankaran, Gakh, Zagatala, Bilasuvar, Jalilabad, Masalli, Ismayilli, Guba and Khachmaz districts. Ministers. The Special Quarantine Regime was also prolonged until 1 December 06:00 and included Lankaran city, Jalilabad and Masalli towns to the list of administrative divisions with entry/exit restrictions. Eligible residents of these administrative units will be provided with AZN 190 social allowance.

The Strict Quarantine Regime was further extended to 14 December in the cities of Shaki and Lankaran, as well as in the districts of Gakh, Zagatala, Bilasuvar, Jalilabad, Masalli, Ismayilli, Guba, and Khachmaz.

According to the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan on 7 December 2020:
- The duration of the special quarantine regime in the country shall be extended until 06:00 on 31 January 2021;
- A tightening of the special quarantine regime shall be applied throughout the country from 00:00 on 14 December 2020 to 00:00 on 18 January 2021;
- Due to the tightening of the special quarantine regime throughout the country from 00:00 on 14 December 2020 to 00:00 on 18 January 2021, the operation of most work and service sectors shall be suspended. All commercial and public catering establishments, including restaurants, cafes and tea houses, shall only be allowed to provide delivery services to customers or provide services online;
- From 00:00 on 14 December 2020 to 00:00 on 18 January 2021, entry and exit to and from the cities of Baku, Sumgayit, Ganja, Mingachevir and Shirvan, Absheron District, as well as Lankaran, Masalli, Jalilabad, Sheki, Zagatala, Guba, Khachmaz, Yevlakh, Barda, Bilasuvar and Ismayilli district centres (except for villages and settlements), shall be suspended except for operational and special purpose vehicles, as well as trucks and vehicles of the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action;
- From 00:00 on 14 December 2020 to 00:00 on 18 January 2021, traffic restrictions shall be applied in the cities of Baku, Sumgayit, Ganja, Mingachevir and Shirvan, Absheron district, as well as Lankaran, Masalli, Jalilabad, Sheki, Zagatala, Guba, Khachmaz, Yevlakh, Barda, Bilasuvar and Ismayilli district centres (except for villages and settlements). Government workers are allowed to move between these areas on the basis of their service cards, while employees of other organizations and institutions are allowed to move around subject to their employer entering information about them into the “icaze.e-gov.az” web-site using an electronic signature;
- From 00:00 on 14 December 2020 to 00:00 on 18 January 2021, an SMS system shall be introduced in the cities of Baku, Sumgayit, Ganja, Mingachevir and Shirvan, Absheron district, as well as Lankaran, Masalli, Jalilabad, Sheki, Zagatala, Guba, Khachmaz, Yevlakh, Barda, Bilasuvar and Ismayilli district centres (except for villages and settlements) for all other persons to leave their place of residence and stay. Alternately, permission may be sought by calling the Ministry of Internal Affairs call centre on 102.
- The SMS system shall be applied in the following cases:
--- to leave the place of residence to receive urgent medical assistance or undergo scheduled treatment (permission is granted for three hours within the district and city)
--- to leave the place of residence to purchase food and other everyday goods and medicines
---- people who do not have legal residence need to call a special number to get the necessary permissions on the basis of their passport number and date of birth.
- Anyone who needs to leave the place of their residence in order attend the funeral of a close relative should seek permission by calling 102
- Persons with tickets for international and domestic flights shall be allowed to move from their place of residence on the basis of their tickets, while those entering the country shall be allowed to proceed to their place of residence on the basis of a stamp in their passport.
- Restrictions on passenger transportation in the Baku underground shall be extended until 06:00 on 31 January 2021.
- Restrictions on public transport on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the country shall be extended until 06:00 on 31 January 2021

However, these restrictions have proven insufficient and the Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers announced the extension of ‘the special quarantine regime’ until 1 June 2021:
o public transport will not operate throughout the country from 20 to 29 March;
o suspension of the public transport on weekends will remain in force until the end of May;
o the Baku metro will remain closed. 

In May 2021, the OHCM extended the special quarantine regime until 06:00 on 1 August 2021, but some restrictions were lifted:
o As of 31 May, citizens will no longer be required to wear face masks in public places.
o The Baku metro, as well as inter-district and inter-city passenger transport will resume operation.
o As of 10 June, places of worship, large trade centres, beaches, sports and recreational centres will reopen. 
o Citizens will have to present COVID-19 passports to enter sports and recreational centres.
o A restriction on the operation of public transport during the weekends will remain in force.
o   Effective 1 July 2021, at least 80 percent of workers are required to have a COVID-19 passport or COVID-19 immunity certificate.


Schools

The rules and guidelines for reopening educational establishments have been developed. Children will be able to attend kindergartens twice a week from 1 October; 1st-4th grade students will be able to attend classes in-person 2-3 times a week from 15 September. 5th-11th grade students will resume attending online classes until 1 October, when 5th-9th grade students will be able attend classes in-person 2-3 times a week and 15 October when 10th-11th grade students will be able to attend classes in-person. Most university students will continue with online studying apart from those studying medicine or engineering who will have in-person classes from 15 October.

For face-to-face teaching, both teachers and students aged 12 years and older (as well as students’ parents accompanying their children) will have to wear masks and there will be regular temperature checks at kindergartens, schools and universities. Individual teaching and tutoring services are allowed in accordance with the rules of the special quarantine. Wearing face masks will not be mandatory for school pupils, it is up to parents to decide what is most appropriate. For parents who do not want their children to return to school during the pandemic, they need to guarantee their children’s participation in virtual lessons, watching TV lessons, completing assignments on time, and participating in regular summative assessment. After signing the agreement to provide these guarantees, parents are allowed to continue home schooling their children. From 2 November, with the worsening epidemiological situation, distance education started in all the educational institutions. Online learning has been extended to 30 December in all educational establishments.

According to the Ministry of Education, four schools (two in Baku, one in Ganja and one in Aghdam) have switched to online only because of COVID-19. [https://apa.az/en/social-news/4-schools-in-Azerbaijan-closed-due-to-coronavirus-343314]. From 1 to 21 February 2021, 225 schoolchildren and 159 education workers tested positive for COVID-19 [https://haqqin.az/news/202399]. Due to an upswing in Covid-19 cases in Baku and a number of other large cities, schools are switching to distance learning from 5 April 2021 [https://jam-news.net/schools-in-large-azerbaijani-cities-shut-again-due-to-covid-19/]

The ‘Special Quarantine Regime’ was introduced from 24 March to 20 April and was extended to 4 May, then 31 May, then 1 August, then 31 August. Additional restrictions included from 29 March and 4 April, but some have been relaxed from 4 May (see Transition measures: Physical distancing).  From 24 March, people aged over 65 years were not allowed to go outside. Social support has been organized for those people over 65 living alone (buying groceries, home pension delivery, renewing electricity meter cards and other communal services by phone). Others are allowed out of home, but from 4 April, only for two hours a day for essentials individuals needed to obtain prior permission to leave home via an SMS notification system. Essential workers are allowed out to go to work, based on a permit system. In public people are encouraged to maintain a 2m distance between them.  A digital platform launched on 6 April, as a one-stop for all e-services:  e-education, e-health, e-entertainment, e-food and e-delivery (www.evdeqal.az). To mitigate infection risks in prisons, 200 prisoners have been released early.

Citizens were advised to use buses instead of the metro in Baku, and extra bus services were arranged; the Metro was subsequently closed on 31 March until 9 May. All Cinemas, museums, theatres, nightclubs and shopping malls were closed. Schools and universities were closed initially until the end of April, but this was extended to 31 May.  In June this was extended to the end of the 2019-2020 academic year with the exception of entrance and final year exams.

Initially, cafes, teahouses and restaurants could provide lunchtime services (12:00-15:00), but then they were closed for in-person dining, but food delivery is permitted. Gatherings of more than 10 people were prohibited and on 29 March, walking in parks and boulevards was banned and the parks and recreation areas were closed on 31 March until further notice.

Mass events have been banned since 2 March - including the Formula 1 motorcar racing and celebrations for the most important annual holiday in Azerbaijan (Nowruz – Persian New Year and the beginning of Spring) were cancelled. From 14 March weddings were forbidden, (except those already scheduled for 14 or 15 March), as were religious ritual services in ceremonial halls, tents and other enclosed spaces, except for funerals. Patients are not allowed visitors in hospital.
 
Essential businesses were allowed to continue to operate including: medical facilities, pharmacies, grocery stores manufacturing and agricultural enterprises, banks, post offices, public utilities and social services, dry cleaners, car repairs, and veterinary clinics. All other commercial enterprises suspended on-site customer services, although unlimited delivery and online sales are allowed. Employees from the public administration will stop working unless they are managers and essential workers.