Coronavirus reignites hostilities between Georgia and Abkhazia
According to a TV station, an Abkhazian woman came to Georgia carrying the virus. Abkhazian authorities reject the claim. Tbilisi strengthens border controls. Georgia has more than a hundred coronavirus cases with 5,000 people in quarantine.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The coronavirus outbreak has reignited the decades-old dispute between Georgia and Russian-backed Abkhazia.
Recently, Georgia’s Rustavi-2 TV channel reported the story of an Abkhazian woman showing severe symptoms of pulmonary disease, hospitalised in the Georgian province of Zugdidi, which is next to Abkhazia.
According to hospital doctors, the patient, who had returned from Russia, was in stable conditions. In order to determine if she was positive to the coronavirus, her test results were sent to the Lugar Research Center in Tbilisi, Georgia’s main infectious disease centre.
Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said that “We will do everything to protect the health of our citizens on both sides of the occupation line.”
The Zugdidi Infectious Diseases Hospital is one of the medical facilities reserved for coronavirus patients, and is located not far from the line between Georgia and pro-Russian Abkhazia, built after the bloody conflict of 2011.
The hospital was built in 2014 at a cost of US$ 15 billion to provide care to Georgian citizens living in Abkhazia, and thus help ease tensions in the area. This time the opposite effect was produced.
In Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, a statement by the local Security Service (once part of the KGB) expressed surprise and regret for the television report. "In the last three days, no Abkhazian citizen has crossed the border with Georgia since it was closed by decision of the President of Abkhazia.”
Georgian authorities responded by saying that not only the woman in question was recovering in a Georgian hospital, but that “many Abkhazians regularly go to Georgia for medical treatment, which is offered to them absolutely free of charge.”
For Irakli Chikovani, head of the Tbilisi Prime Minister's press office, the danger of the coronavirus has forced Georgian authorities to “increase border controls, due to the worsening epidemiological situation in the Abkhazia region.”
Abkhazia however continues to deny that the virus is present in its territory.
The situation in Georgia is also rather tricky. So far, more than a hundred people have tested positive, with 20 recovering. More than 5,000 are under quarantine.
In the Kvemo Kartli region, the cities of Bolnisi and Marneuli have been completely isolated with army checkpoints, just 50 kilometres from Tbilisi.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili recently travelled to the area to be directly briefed by the military.