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Marneuli, Georgia braces for epidemic – what’s happening in the city on lockdown.

Late in the night of March 22, the municipalities of Marneuli and Bolnisi in Georgia were cut off from the outside world. They are under quarantine after a woman who was admitted to a hospital in Marneuli was found to have coronavirus.

The woman was transported to Tbilisi and is in critical condition. It is unclear who she caught the infection from. Before the onset of symptoms, she had contact with several dozens of people.

Entry into the quarantine zone is restricted by police, military and specialists. Only local residents are allowed in, and only after their temperatures are checked, documents inspected, and cars disinfected. A field hospital in Marneuli has been repurposed as a quarantine hospital.

The situation is aggravated by the fact that the majority of the region’s inhabitants are ethnic Azerbaijanis, many of whom do not know the Georgian language, which is why they are often poorly informed about the situation in the country.

Journalist and activist Shalal Amirjanova from Marneuli tells JAMnews about the situation in the region as it faces a localized epidemic.

Yesterday afternoon, we found out that a woman from Marneuli was diagnosed with coronavirus.

She used to be a neighbor of mine. She has been suffering from heart failure for many years, and as far as I know, she has had heart surgery three times.

She often travels to Azerbaijan, where she has relatives.

She lives in Marneuli, along with her brother’s family. He has a large family.

Right now, people in Marneuli are celebrating the holiday of Novruz-Bayrami.

Last Tuesday was Charshanba – one of the important holidays during Novruz. On this day, everyone goes to visit one another.

A close relative of the woman told be that on March 11, she was at an annual memorial service for one of her family members. And before that, she was visiting a relative in Azerbaijan.

On March 18, her condition worsened and she was hospitalized. She could not breathe and everyone thought that it was because of her heart problems.

By the time she made it to the hospital, her situation had already become quite dire.

The woman was lying in the hospital for several days and no one could figure out what was happening to her. Doctors only tested her for coronavirus when her condition became very serious.

There were no less than 200 people at the memorial service she attended, including residents of other cities and villages in the region.

After arriving from abroad, this woman was in close contact with everyone in her family, as well as with neighbors and other nearby relatives.

Novruz-Bayrami is also a holiday with a lot of physical contact – according to tradition, people are supposed to hug and kiss each other several times.

The hospital in which the woman was treated is one of the largest clinics in Marneuli.

Now, the whole city is being quarantined. As a result, many people have been locked into the hospital – both medical staff and other patients.

Many people visit this hospital, which means that now the whole region is in danger.

More than 100 thousand people live in the municipality of Marneuli. The Kvemo Kartli region, where the city is located, has a population of 423 thousand

When people woke up on March 23, they found that the city had been shut off from the rest of the world.

That night, the military entered the city with heavy machinery.

Now, all entrances and exits are shut off.

However, at first glance, it seems that ordinary daily life continues for citizens of Marneuli. People walk around in the street, go to shops, visit each other’s yards and talk to each other.

Many locals are ethnic Azerbaijanis who do not know the Georgian language. Almost no one watches Georgian TV channels. Information is learned mainly from Azerbaijani channels.

That is why many people still have a poor understanding of the situation at hand.

For instance, this happened to one of my neighbors this morning — a young mother living alone with her children. She said that she read on WhatsApp that something had happened in Marneuli. My mom explained to her that we are in a quarantine and should not go outside.

And my neighbor is not the only such case.

Despite the fact that the coronavirus has been in the country for about a month, this young woman simply has no information about it. She has no idea what she needs to do to protect herself and her children from the virus.

Most people, of course, have heard that some dangerous virus is spreading all over the world, including in Georgia, but they do not have any official information, and rumors are spreading far faster.

No one paid any serious attention to the virus until a resident of Marneuli fell ill.

Life in the villages goes on as usual. My friends tell me that people there still gather together regularly.

It is spring and many are out in the fields. Some do not have time to watch TV, because they are cultivating the land and growing vegetables.

This morning I spoke with my grandmother, who lives in one of the villages near Marneuli:

“We heard on the Azerbaijani news station that Marneuli was closed off, is everything alright there?” She asked me.

Many Marneuli residents, especially young people who actively post on Facebook, are unhappy with the measures the government has taken.

They say that authorities need to take more strict control over the situation.

Novrus Mehdi from the village of Algeti calls on the authorities to pay more attention to the villages:

“Attention, authorities! In Marneuli villages, people are not complying with quarantine rules! Everyone is outside! Please ensure the safety of the population and send representatives to the villages to educate them!”

And Mariam Kveladze from the village of Tsereteli had this message:

“The police must go to the villages and the city of Marneuli and monitor those living there … People are still walking around in the streets …”

I try to social distance and stay at home, but I also want to do something to help people.

I was up all night translating information and documents from city hall to distribute among the Azerbaijani population, which does not speak Georgian.

If necessary, I am ready to go to the villages, with the appropriate safety equipment, and explain to people how to protect themselves from the virus.

Rashan Ziyadaliev, a civic activist from Marneuli, has launched a volunteer campaign. He says that they are going to go door to door around all the Marneuli villages in order to inform people of the situation in the Azerbaijani language.

“We are turning to organizations for help, and as soon as we have the transport and the necessary equipment, we will start traveling there in small groups,” says Rashan.