Georgia has announced it will temporarily ban entry to all foreign citizens, in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The government said the ban would come into force on 18 March and last two weeks.
The ban will not affect Georgian citizens and members of their families, who will be able to return to Georgia via Georgian Airways flights administered by the government.
Freight transport will also remain unaffected.
By 16 March, there were 33 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Georgia; 637 people were also in quarantine and 54 under observation in hospital.
On 14 March, the head of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Amriran Gamkrelidze, confirmed that a case of domestic transmission of the disease had been detected.
Gamkrelidze said on Monday that they were attempting to ascertain if they had lost track of how the disease was spreading.
The ban comes just two days after the country closed its borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani said the ban would not affect diplomats and employees of international organisations, or people with neutral documents or refugee status in Georgia.
He said official delegations would be examined on an individual basis.
The decision came after two individuals, from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, who had travelled to Georgia as tourists from 4–9 March and already returned home, reported to the Georgian authorities that they had tested positive for the virus.
On 15 March, the Drunk Cherry restaurant in Georgian ski resort Gudauri said they had gone into quarantine after Georgian health authorities informed them the infected tourists had named the establishment among the places they frequented during their stay.
NCDC Deputy Head Paata Imnadze hailed the Czech tourists for their detailed information.
Georgian Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze said during a briefing on Monday that 30 people had been identified as coming into contact with the tourist group and were currently in self-isolation. She said that three of them had developed symptoms of the virus.
Closure of cafes, restaurants, and bars ‘being considered’
On Monday, Georgians received SMS messages on their phones urging them not to go outside unless necessary. The message said people should call a doctor if symptoms presented, and urged those who were 60 and above, who are in the highest risk group, to be ‘especially careful’.
Irakli Chikovani, an adviser to the Prime Minister, said in a press conference on Monday that people over 70 should avoid crowded areas and try to self-isolate to avoid infection.
Chikovani announced that the government had made the decision to close the ski season in all of Georgia’s ski resorts early this year.
Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, who chairs the Interagency Coordination Council on the virus, also said on 16 March that they were considering closing cafes, restaurants, and bars throughout the country, except for food delivery services.
The first person to test positive for the virus in Georgia, a 44-year-old man, tested negative for the virus on 14 March and is listed as a recovered patient on the World Health Organisation’s website.
However, Tengiz Tsertsvadze, the Director of the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Tbilisi, told journalists on Sunday that a follow-up test was a ‘weak positive’ for COVID-19, but that the man’s health was not in danger and he would likely be declared recovered in a few days.
Tornike Rizhvadze, the head of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara in western Georgia, told journalists on 15 March that the first case had been confirmed in Adjara.