Public transport, eateries, markets, and schools will reopen in Georgia ahead of schedule in a U-turn for the government on its anti-coronavirus measures.
Announcing the decision on Thursday, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia cited a recent decline in the number of new COVID-19 infections, stating that the average positive rate for those tested over the last 7 days was less than 4%.
‘No one came up with anything more effective against the pandemic than a mask, social distancing, testing, and later — vaccination’, Gakharia said. The government also approved a national vaccination plan on 4 February.
All the restrictions being lifted, however, will remain in place on weekends.
The decision followed daily street protests, mostly by business groups, against the anti-coronavirus curbs. Social rights activists have also insisted that the public transport ban disproportionately affected worse-off people.
'Everyone has the right to movement' - there was another rally today demanding to reopen transport, but not many showed up, probably because the government recently vaguely signaled that they may reopen transport on 15 February. pic.twitter.com/mjZEuwVFgj
— Mariam Nikuradze (@mari_nikuradze) January 31, 2021
Municipal public transport, as well as marketplaces, will now resume services from 8 February. The PM did not mention inter-city public transport, which was previously touted to reopen from 1 March.
Eateries will be allowed to reopen, with outdoor seating only, from 15 February. Initially, the authorities allowed this only in the Black Sea coast region of Adjara from 1 February.
Schools will also reopen completely from 15 February, although parents will have the option to continue remote learning.
The government also tightened the sanctions for not wearing a facemask in public, with fines doubled from ₾20 ($6) to ₾40 ($12) for repeat offenders.
Protests against lockdown
Public pressure to lift restrictions has mounted since the government extended lockdown measures, including a nationwide curfew, which were due to expire from February.
For the past week, restaurant owners have protested demanding the right to reopen. Last Saturday more than 100 restaurants boycotted delivery services in protest.
On Wednesday, the Georgian Restaurant Association vowed to defy a ban on eateries and to reopen from 6 February. They also demanded that inter-city transport, flights, and ski resorts be allowed to reopen.
Their protests were supported by libertarian opposition leader Zurab Girchi Japaridze who also planned a march of ‘defiance’ on Saturday evening during curfew hours.
The Prime Minister said on Thursday that organisations that deliberately broke restrictions would not receive any government subsidies in the future. He said that they would also be ‘strictly punished’.