Published on : Monday, August 17, 2020
Huge influx of Russian tourists visited Abkhazia after the latter’s opening up on August 1st, with over 100,000 visitors coming to the territory by now. The reopening has collided with a rise in the number of new cases of COVID-19, though officials have explained that the two events are not related to each other.
For about four months, Abkhazia had been closed off due to the pandemic, causing its economy which is heavily tourism-dependent suffer. However, towards the end of July 2020, Abkhazia, an unrecognized republic breaking away from Georgia during a war in the 1990s, negotiated a contract with Russia – its key economic and military support, along with the source of almost all its tourists to open borders.
The choice seems to be bit quickly: On July 31st, the de facto leader of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania stated that it was quite early to say when exactly tourists would be starting to pour in. The border opened on the very next day, and 700 cars crossed in a single day.
Reportedly, the Russians who are coming have lined up in queues and have surprised Abkhazian officials.
Russian tourists have mainly been drawn to Abkhazia in 2020 as they don’t need to undergo a COVID test to get in. “Abkhazia has even overtaken Turkey in terms of the number of reservations,” said one Russian tour operator. “Both because it’s close, and also because you don’t need to take a test for COVID-19.”
The invasion has made the territory’s public health officials pretty concerned. To quote Alhas Konjaria, Abkhazia’s de facto deputy health minister, on August 3rd, “Even before the opening of the border we were experiencing an outbreak among the local population. The Gudauta hospital [designated by the authorities as the main COVID-19 treatment center] is beginning to get full and we are detecting 8-10 new patients per day, and even at this stage we understand that dealing with this number of patients will be quite difficult. And add to our population those who will come and we are simply going to choke and not be able to help neither our own citizens nor anyone else.”
The de facto prime minister, Alexander Ankvab, have stated that such comments were “scaremongering” but he himself in late June cautioned regarding opening up to large-scale tourism: “If we open the border, the number of people coming here is going to increase many times. We can’t allow this.”