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).
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, and then closed at weekends until 30 September) 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 wre 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 typo 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 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
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.
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.