Policy responses for Georgia - HSRM

Georgia


Policy responses for Georgia

6. Measures in other sectors

6.1 Measures in other sectors

Many MEASURES IN OTHER SECTORS beyond the immediate scope of the health system are being taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This section contains information on many of these areas, including border and travel restrictions and economic and fiscal measures, among others.

Borders

The government announced that the Georgian hotels will be open for domestic travellers from June 15 and for international travellers from July 1, 2020. At the same time international flights were to resume, however, as of 24 July, the borders remain closed to most international travellers. Georgia intends to have COVID free touristic zones and serve groups of travellers from similar risk countries. At airports, special marks have been set up to ensure social distancing near terminals and special barriers have been constructed at registration counters to avoid direct contact between passengers and employees. As of 8 July, air corridors with Germany, France, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are open (all five countries have also opened borders for Georgia), and scheduled flights for these countries will reopen in August. On 20 July, Switzerland also opened its borders.

Travel by railway resumed on 15 June, but Georgian Railways must strictly following new sanitary regulations. Passengers will need to: undergo screening with thermal devices; step on disinfecting mats when entering train wagons; respect mandatory hand disinfection and social distancing; passengers should wear face masks for the duration of journey.

On 24 July, Karajalari village of Gardabani municipality was put under quarantine following the identification of 19 cases. Roads to and from the village have been blocked by police and drones are being used to monitor the area. About 1,000 villages have been tested for COVID-19 and the Georgian National Centre for Disease Control began mass testing of people for the coronavirus at the Lilo open market on the outskirts of Tbilisi where many Gardabani inhabitants work as vendors. Mestia municipality in western Georgia and Gardabani in eastern Georgia and Mestia municipality in western Georgia remained in lockdown until 21 August – more than 1,000 people were tested for the coronavirus in Mestia on 11 August and 919 people, who were in the municipality as tourists, were also placed in quarantine until 21 August.

Following am outbreak of 28 cases in the resort town of Batumi on Black Sea coast (Adjara region), certain popular entertainment/dining venues have been closed to enforce physical distancing. Four nightclubs have been closed down and fined for violating coronavirus-related safety norms. Tents have been set up on the Batumi Boulevard where tourists and locals will be able to undergo voluntary coronavirus testing. All 940 guests in a hotel in Chakvi on the Black Sea, were tested after one guest tested positive; five guests were placed on quarantine, while the rest could leave the hotel. As of 9 September, Adjara region was considered a red zone. 

In August, social and celebratory rituals or other types of events (including weddings, anniversaries, funerals, etc.) were allowed outdoors with a maximum of 100 participants. The Inter-Agency Coordination Council continues to observe the current epidemic trends and will be gradually making decisions on re-opening of other activities when safe to do so. On 7 September, stricter controls on social events were discussed by the Interagency Coordination Council, and from 10 September all weddings, funerals and festive events were banned both indoors and outside.

Economy

The World Bank’s report Global Economic Prospects 2020 states that real GDP will decline in 2020 in Georgia and is estimated to be -4.8 per cent, with projected recovery of growth at 4 per cent in 2021, although the Asian Development Outlook 2020 Update gave a more promising forecast of 4.5 per cent growth in 2021 once tourism can recover.

The Crisis Response Plan was put forward on 24 April and has been in place since 27 April 2020. On 24 June, Parliament approved an amendment to the state budget 2020 to fund the Plan. The aim is to gradually reopen the economy step-by-step over the next three months. The Plan includes supporting business owners, commercial banks, agriculture and the health sector (see Section 4.1 Health financing). The resources needed for the full implementation of the measures defined by the Crisis Response Plan in 2020 amount to 3.4 billion GEL. The supplemental budget envisages fiscal deficit to increase to 8.5 percent of GDP.

Support to agriculture and regional development (both microgrants and loans at below commercial interest rates). A credit guarantee scheme is also included for SMEs alongside co-funding mechanisms. Companies which have furloughed staff will receive state subsidies to exempt lower bracket salaries from income tax and provide income tax breaks to middle bracket salaries. Commercial banks will gain access to a long-term financial resource of GEL 600 million. GEL 500 million will be provided to support businesses, including through the credit guarantee scheme. Financing for working capital will increase. Support to agriculture has a total cost of 500 million and includes the State Program for Maintaining Prices of Primary Consumption Food Products, including building stocks of rice, pasta, buckwheat, sunflower oil, sugar, milk powder, beans, wheat, and wheat powder. The tourism industry will be exempt from profits tax.

The Crisis Response Plan envisages provision of targeted social assistance to those formerly employed people who lost their job or who were placed on unpaid leave due to the coronavirus pandemic. They will receive 200 GEL per month over the course of 6 months; employers will receive a state subsidy for each job maintained; over the course of 6 months: salaries up to 750 GEL will be fully exempt from income tax; one-time assistance of 300 GEL will be provided to people who are self-employed or employed in the “informal sector” if they can show they lost their job. The government extended the application deadline for state compensation for the self-employed to 1 August, to ensure that social assistance reaches the seasonal workers abroad, among others.

Over the course of the upcoming 6 months, 600 GEL in means-tested assistance will be given to very low-income families and low-income families with three and more children under the age of 16. Financial assistance will also be provided to persons with severe disabilities and children with disabilities at the same level. From January 2021, pensions will be index-linked (will increase by at least the rate of inflation) for pensioners aged 70 and above; in addition, pensions will increase by 80% of the real economic growth rate. Regardless of the actual rates of inflation and economic growth, the pension increase will be at least GEL 20 for the pensioners below age 70 and above GEL 25 GEL for pensioners above age 70. A utility subsidy (payment for gas, electricity and utilities) for households consuming up to 200 kW of electricity and/or up to 200 m3 natural gas monthly will also be put in place (GEL 170 million). As of 16 July, 721,000 citizens have already received social assistance packages.

The government has also targeted assistance to remote areas under the law on ‘Mountainous Regions’. In total 272,000 people living in high mountainous regions and adjacent to the occupied territories will benefit from this law. The benefits introduced by this law include: subsidized electricity and heating to households; higher pensions; social transfers for newborns; increased salaries for teachers and medical personnel; and some tax allowances for businesses operating in those areas.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has approved a loan of €45 million to Georgia to mitigate the negative economic and social impacts of Covid-19 and sustain the momentum of pre-pandemic reforms that support economic growth and resilience, announces the AIIB.

To reduce unemployment, Georgian citizens are now allowed to travel for work to Turkey, provided they have a minimum 3-month invitation from a prospective employer. They will have to quarantine themselves for 2 weeks on return.

On 6 August 2020, the Prime Minister unveiled the list of new/modified measures to support the citizens of Georgia to cope with the pandemic:
* The government will provide GEL 200 one-time assistance to all children below 18 (around 800 000 people). The total cost will be about GEL 160 million.
* The government will help the students from vulnerable families by covering the university tuition fees for one semester. About 33 000 students are expected to benefit from this initiative. Total cost GEL 35 million.
* A benefit of GEL 300 per person will be provided to the self-employed, who lost their job during the pandemic and applied for government assistance, but were refused, as they failed to provide required documents. About 250 000 self-employed people applied for benefits and 170 000 received them, so this measure will be available to the remaining 80 000. Total cost of this initiative is 24 million GEL.
* The government will cover vulnerable households’ utility costs for November 2020-February 2021 (4 months).

A new state programme that allows foreign citizens to travel to and work remotely from Georgia, started on 27 August. Foreigners from 95 countries will be allowed to apply for the programme if they intend to stay in Georgia for at least 180 days.

Borders
Thermal screening started at airports on 25 January and gradually all border checkpoints were equipped with the necessary thermal screening devices.

Flights with Italy were suspended from 6 March 2020. The borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia were closed on 14 March 2020, the Russian Federation on 16 March 2020, to all foreign nationals on 18 March 2020, and all international travel by air, land and sea was suspended from 20 March 2020.

The Russian Federation has also closed its borders and this has implications for the territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali / South Ossetia as they had already closed crossing points with Georgia. International agencies have expressed readiness to provide medical aid in relation to the pandemic and several cargos with personal protective equipment and disinfectants have already reached Abkhazia. Also WHO organized a rapid assessment mission to Abkhazia, with focus on strengthening lab capacities and hospital readiness, and recommendations were provided in the respective areas, as well as related to overall coordination and risk communication. As of 27 April, the state of emergency had been relaxed in Abkhazia, allowing shops and open-air markets to re-open. As of 16 June, a ban on travel from the Russian Federation has been extended to 1 July, for all travellers except diplomats, soldiers and employees of the Russian military base in Abkhazia, and drivers of transport involved in international cargo transportation, but those arriving in Abkhazia should isolate for 14 days. Shops and marketplaces are open and public transport is functioning, but should be disinfected on a daily basis. Pre-school facilities are to remain closed until 1 July 2020. As of 6 July, no new cases of COVID-19 have been detected in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Strict quarantine measures have been introduced in some specific settlements as there is evidence of community transmission within them – Khidskuri village in Khashuri municipality (Shida-Kartli region), seven rural communities in Kobuleti municipality (Adjara region), Lentekhi municipality (Racha-Lechkhumi-Kvemo Svaneti region), and Marneuli & Bolnisi municipalities (Kvemo-Kartli region, since 23 March 2020). Information on the rules of state quarantine has been widely distributed in Georgian and minority ethnic languages, which is important as these municipalities have majority-Azeri communities.
 
Intercity traffic and passenger trains were prohibited throughout Georgia on 24 March 2020, but this did not apply to light vehicles in towns. From 31 March universal quarantine was declared and all types of public transportation (including the subway) was suspended both within and between cities and municipalities across country until 26 April.  From 21:00 on 15 April, the four largest cities –Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi and Rustavi were on lockdown for 10 days, meaning no-one can enter or leave. Kutaisi and Batumi reopened on 5 May 2020, Tbilisi on 11 May, and restrictions in Rustavi are due to be lifted on 18 May.

Economy
On 1 April 2020, the Government of Georgia launched an Economic Support Plan that allocated GEL 2 billion to support the country's economy. This adds to fiscal stimulus initiatives returning 1.2 billion USD in VAT revenue to the private sector, stimulus packages for the tourism industry and price caps on staple foods. A three-month delay on loans and leases for small- and medium-sized enterprises was also introduced. With support from international donors, $1.5 billion will be directed to the Georgian economy by the end of the year.

Within the frame of the new program “Co-financing Mechanism for Supporting Family-owned, Small and Medium-size Hotel Industries”, Enterprise Georgia (the agency of the Ministry of Economic and Sustainable Development of Georgia) will co-finance up to 80 per cent of the annual interest rate on loans issued to family-owned, small and medium-sized hotels. The custom clearance term for vehicles imported before 1 April 2020 was extended to 1 September 2020 for car importers; The credit guarantee scheme will be enhanced; VAT refunds will become automatic and will accelerate. Support for the construction industry includes government purchasing of housing for refugees.

Banknotes were ‘quarantined’ for 14 days when they re-entered the central bank and new banknotes were supplied to commercial banks. Exchange booths were closed.

State aid
It was announced on 1 April 2020, that the Government of Georgia will pay for the utility bills of those households that consume less than 200 kilowatts of electricity and 200 m3 of natural gas per month in March, April and May. Benefits extend to maintenance charges and water bills. This was presented as a stop-gap measure until benefits packages can be put in place for people who have become unemployed as a result of the pandemic. All employers have been ordered to continue paying the salaries of quarantined workers and the April pension and welfare benefits were issued in advance for vulnerable citizens. Controlling the price of bread remains a priority and the government has ruled out price rises on many essential products / goods during the State of Emergency [ https://bit.ly/34hRH9y ] The government will stockpile and subsidise imports of 9 basic commodities (flour, wheat, pasta, rice, oil, sugar, milk powder, beans, buckwheat).

A StopCov Fund has been established to pool private donations for the aid effort and volunteers to assist in deliveries for older and vulnerable citizens are organized using social media platforms. Almost 129 million GEL has been accumulated in the StopCov Fund as of 23 April.

Civil protection
A State of Emergency was announced on 21 March 2020 (initially to run until 21 April 2020, but extended to 10 May and then 22 May) and ended on 23 May.  No military resources were deployed. In early July, Parliament was set to discuss a draft law that allows the authorities to impose restrictions until 1 January 2021 without declaring a State of Emergency.

International relations
The government has plans to conduct a large-scale study with international partners on the coronavirus’ effect on different aspects of the country. Minister Davit Zalkaliani has also expressed solidarity with Armenia and offered help in fighting the pandemic.