The current COVID-19 healthcare crisis has taken its toll in Europe. With the cases diminishing in China and Wuhan returning to normalcy, Italy, Spain, and other countries in the continent have become the new epicenter of this worldwide catastrophe.
Yet, amidst the disheartening news, there are plenty of coronavirus success stories waiting to be shared, and Georgia just so happens to have one of them—as of March 27, the country has reported 81 confirmed cases of COVID-19 within its territory since the disease was detected on February 26. Better yet, the Georgia healthcare system has reported a total of 13 recoveries, and not a single death.
While these numbers seem promisingly positive, skeptics may believe this is a result of a small population—Georgia has, after all, about four million people. Such a minor number contrasts with Spain’s 46 million inhabitants and Italy’s over 60 million, which could account for Georgia’s almost miraculous success against coronavirus.
But upon further study, Georgia’s outstanding achievement in handling COVID-19 is not a mirage amidst the chaos. Croatia, a European country with roughly the same area, population, and density as Georgia, has 495 confirmed coronavirus cases as of March 27.
To put it on statistical terms, Italy—Europe’s most affected country—has officially diagnosed 0.13% of its population with COVID-19, Croatia has so far an official percentage of 0.012%, and Georgia boasts of an astonishing 0.002%. Further analysis of mortality trends displays similarly amazing results.
So, what’s the secret behind Georgia’s coronavirus success story?
Believe it or not, the answer is not qvevri wine. At least not this time.
The secret behind Georgia’s coronavirus success story is speed
Long before Europe acted according to the severity of the COVID-19 threat, Georgia had already put forward security measures to guarantee the safety of the citizens within the country.
On January 27, when the disease was still focused on China with little-to-no cases abroad, the Georgian government applied preventive mechanisms to monitor the health of Chinese citizens returning to Georgiaafter visiting the Asian nation. However, there are reports that the Tbilisi Airport started the screening much earlier. Only a few days later, on January 29, the government issued a temporary suspension of direct flights with China, and they established an intense campaign to inform citizens of the best travel tips amidst coronavirus to guarantee safety.
It’s important to highlight that there were no suspicious cases in the country yet, so this measure was entirely preventive.
As COVID-19 spread across the globe, nearby Iran became a hotspot for the virus across Western Asia. Taking this into consideration, the Georgian government admitted that the rapidly-growing crisis in Iran was a matter of national concern. It swiftly banned all direct flights from Iran on February 23—merely a few days after the Iranian government officially recognized the arrival of coronavirus in the country.
What seemed at the time as dramatic and radical measures, in hindsight, became the salvation of Georgia. Three days later, on February 26, the government reported its first positive. It was a Georgian citizen returning home from Iran through Azerbaijan.
Since screening measures were meticulous, the citizen reported symptoms upon arrival, easing his direct arrival to Tbilisi for treatment, subsequently reducing his exposure to others and keeping the virus confined. At the same time, the campaign promoting travel tips amidst coronavirus continued.
By February 28, a second case is detected in a woman returning from Italy, and from then on, the cases slowly increase in numbers. However, due to the aforementioned early measures, each case was discovered early, and each of their contacts was quarantined instantly, preventing further spread of the disease.
To put it simply, the Georgian coronavirus success story is the consequence of astounding foresight by the competent authorities. But regardless, it wouldn’t have been possible without the astounding effort and high quality of the Georgian healthcare system.
It worked because the Georgian government step back
As a rule, in Georgia, we do not trust the government much. A long history of intrigue, corruption, and individual interests ranking above collective wellbeing keep us from relying too much on our authorities’ talents.
However, the current COVID-19 has taken many of us by surprise. Pleasantly, even.
The government has taken control of the situation by simply not taking control of the situation.
Confused? You shouldn’t be. The ones at the frontline of this battle are not government officials, but Georgian healthcare professionals and specialists.
Many countries have failed to take appropriate measures against the COVID-19 pandemic, and in plenty of cases, it’s by not letting health authorities take the wheel. Some governments, in early stages, turned their decision-making policies against the novel coronavirus a political or economic issue, instead of the sanitary emergency it is
Although questionable from an ethical standpoint and counterproductive in the long run, it’s not a choice void of reasoning.
In countries with political unrest and instability, the coronavirus crisis can corrode the foundation of a nation, compromise its steadiness, and debilitate local governments in moments that require strategic and effective leadership. Subsequently, it may cause an even more significant point of conflict and even worsen the COVID-19 crisis.
Likewise, the worldwide economic impact of the pandemic looms on the horizon and paints to be a whole new battlefront in that regard. Frozen economies and billions in losses paint a bleak immediate future, and the consequences may be catastrophic for the most affected countries.
Georgia is not exempt from this. Lari depreciation is imminent, although government measures attempt to keep it under control. Many businesses are closing down, flights are canceled, and money flow is all but frozen. It’s clear that, alongside the sanitary crisis, the ever-present threat of a prolonged economic fallout is hard to ignore.
But coronavirus is, first and foremost, a health crisis. It must be handled as such to preserve lives and guarantee the wellbeing of the citizens. Likewise, the swift handling of the crisis is critical to assure the political and economic consequences remain as minimal as possible.
The best coronavirus treatment is prevention, so the Georgian government step back and let the experts talk.
Georgian healthcare system took charge of the crisis
Understanding the severe consequences of failure, the Georgian healthcare institutions took charge, and their respective leaders became the professional minds establishing the correct steps to follow.
The country established lockdowns, quarantines, and closed schools with just three confirmed cases. This type of measure is against political or financial interests—who wants to close business and schools, after all?—but is a perfect sanitary response.
Thus, while the government executed these steps, the plans and leaderships were given to the National Center for Disease Control, the Center for Infectious Pathologies, AIDS, and Clinical Immunology, and other institutions from the Georgian healthcare system.
Brilliant minds, such as Marina Ezugbaia, Paata Imnadze, or Amiran Gamkrelidze, have led Georgia’s efforts towards collective wellbeing in front of their respective institutions. Privately, they have coordinated efforts and shared their insight and expertise through extensive research, guiding the government with their advice according to scientific parameters and current global trends.
In public, their efforts are just as commendable.
They have become the face of hope amidst the crisis, reminding the general population how to survive coronavirus physically and psychologically. They provide open and honest information regarding the status of COVID-19 within Georgia, guaranteeing a steady track of the patients’ wellbeing, and giving the best coronavirus treatment and prevention tips.
But research does not stop there. The Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research is studying the genetic sequence of each COVID-19 case, allowing it to identify the cluster it came from, as well as the country and area of infection. This information is highly valuable for humanity, as it helps determine the potential variations for each case, potential mutations, and spreading patterns.
Beyond these specific actions, efforts in prevention and containment of the disease are worth of praise, mainly due to the context of the country. COVID-19 has collapsed the healthcare systems of some of the wealthiest countries in the world. The United States, Spain, Italy, amongst many others face a dire situation as the disease spreads, and odds are the Georgian healthcare system would collapse much sooner, should coronavirus spread.
Acknowledging the weaknesses of Georgian healthcare, addressing it through expertise and scientific research, and focusing on the viable alternatives to guarantee general wellbeing are the key to the Georgian success in stopping COVID-19.
How to survive coronavirus, according to Georgia
But while Georgia’s healthcare institutions have taken the lead, they’re not the only ones making an effort. The first step in understanding how to survive coronavirus relies on information and Georgia understood that clearly.
To fight misinformation and create a single source of must-knows, the government created StopCov.ge. The website—available in Georgian, Azerbaijani, and English—provides live updates on the current status of coronavirus within the country, emergency numbers for those affected, addresses to pharmacies, official recommendations on how to survive coronavirus, and a section exclusively meant to debunk common myths and misconceptions.
The website gathers information provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), local health authorities, and other experts. The population must understand the importance of hygiene and social distance, and the website provides effective means to combat misinformation and explain how to survive coronavirus without falling prey to panic.
But efforts have gone beyond that.
To channel countrywide means and actions into a single, precise direction, Georgia has created the StopCov Fund. Inspired by the aforementioned website, StopCov Fund allows individuals and private companies to donate any amount of money they desire, directing it straight towards health assistance for the disadvantaged population amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
So far, private organizations such as the construction company Dirsi, development company M2, or even the Georgian Football Federation, have donated to the cause. As of March 26, it has gathered over 9 million GEL.
Things are looking up.
But victory isn’t ours yet
As joyful as is Georgia’s coronavirus success story, this fight is far from over.
Worldwide, COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere for a while more. Many countries have yet to flatten their transmission curve, and as long as the virus remains active in a corner of the world, the risk of a widespread infection remains a tragically open possibility. Even for the most careful of countries.
Georgia must, subsequently, keep enforcing these restrictions with an iron fist and a clear mind.
Guaranteeing that Georgian healthcare experts keep being at the frontline of the battle remains the best method to keep this coronavirus success story going.
It’s essential to make them the primary advisors for the government and their policies, but we must not neglect their role as spokespersons for the ordinary citizen. Establishing a connection between the informed medical personnel and the general population is an essential task, as it leads to the citizen’s obedience and collective efforts towards a common goal.
Quarantines, isolation, and social distance are hard to accept, particularly for a society as family-based as ours. Efforts like that of Tbilisi Art Museum, who opened an online tour video for those interested in exploring its magnificence, are most welcome in contributing to the general cause and helping these hard days seem less bleak. Likewise, the 20 Steps production studio has made available online some of their short films for free.
It’s a collective effort from every institution, authority, or business. From each of their corners, Georgia’s productive society is contributing to the wellbeing of the nation.
But at the end of the day, a country is only as grand as its citizens. The Georgian government has issued policies that haven accurate and effective, but it’s up to the population to guarantee them effectively.
Respecting isolation, avoiding gatherings, and practicing good hygiene remain the best means to stop coronavirus, and they depend on us. The Georgian government can issue every policy they want, but we must rise to the challenge.
It’s up to us to keep Georgia’s success story going and give it a happy ending.