A group of residents in Adjara, Georgia's Black Sea coast region, are demanding help from the government amidst financial challenges caused by coronavirus pandemic-related curbs.
Dozens of protesters, including service and transportation workers as well as teachers and university students, are demanding the government help them tackle financial problems they have faced since spring.
The diverse group has held rallies in the streets of Batumi for the past two days, with seven participants announcing a hunger strike.
While the protest ended and five of the hunger strikers concluded their strike upon meeting local officials Monday evening, two have vowed to keep up their hunger strike until the government delivers on its promises.
Natia Luashvili, a gaming house employee with 10 years of experience and one of the organisers of the demonstrations, told OC Media that Tornike Rizhvadze, the head of Adjara government, vowed to inform them within two days about a possible agreement with local banks to freeze loan repayment until the workers are back on the job.
Luashvili said that while they are halting the demonstrations and hunger strikes for the moment, they plan to monitor closely the government’s actions to make sure they fulfill their promise to hold open meetings with local residents.
The extension of unemployment benefits continued and a freeze on interest payments have been among the top demands of the group.
‘We started protesting after the government remained idle while individual money-lenders or microfinance groups started calling people — after debtors and those with mortgaged apartments faced eviction’, Luashvili told OC Media. She added that a government official told them that they had ‘only started working on these problems now’.
A group of Adjara residents have recently also demanded schools, kindergartens, and businesses reopen, and that public transport start running again. Both the central government in Tbilisi, as well as the leadership of Adjara, have said they were open to talking with those facing financial burdens.
As for anti-coronavirus economic restrictions, the authorities have indicated that they do not plan to lift them in the coming days. On 25 September, the government instructed bars and restaurants to close no later than 20:00. Shortly thereafter, the authorities prohibited public transport, allowing only privately-owned vehicles and taxis to travel the roads.
The decision came after 259 new cases in the region were confirmed on 24 September.
Adjara has been Georgia’s biggest COVID-19 hotspot since early September, something that forced the medical authorities to send coronavirus patients with light or no symptoms — currently over 1,000 — home to avoid the healthcare system becoming overwhelmed.
On 10 October, Georgia’s medical authorities confirmed an additional 222 cases of infection within prior 24 hours — almost half of the country's daily new cases.
Unless the government changes its plans, November would be the last month for people who have lost their jobs since the coronavirus outbreak to collect their ₾200 ($62) unemployment benefits in Georgia, which have been issued regularly since April.
In August, in a survey commissioned by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), unemployment compensation came up on top (29%) of the list of the most desired social assistance programs named by the respondents.
Of the 43% of respondents that said they received unemployment benefits since the coronavirus outbreak began, 48% claimed it was not enough. Due to a limited amount of assistance cash, reopening the economy has been viewed by some workers nationwide, and now especially in Adjara, as a more promising solution to their financial problems.