Mon, 01 Jun 2020

A major flour-milling company in Kyrgyzstan has announced it will have to suspend operations because its employees cannot get hold of the permits needed to get past checkpoints erected to enforce the coronavirus-related lockdown.

The company, Bishkek-based Akun, said in a statement on April 2 that it filed applications for the passes a week ago, but that the paperwork had been lost.

The halt to work at the plants, called Akun and Bishkek Milling Factory, respectively, threatens to precipitate a shortfall of a basic staple just as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to take its toll on food security in the region. Neighboring Kazakhstan, a major grower of wheat, has not suspended wheat exports, but it is limiting volumes in light of the situation.

Akun has also said that it is running out of warehouse space because of accumulating amounts of the spent grain leftover that is normally sold as feed for cattle.

"Our warehouse is currently swamped in grain leftover, which has taken up the space kept for the ready flour, which means that we cannot continue to produce flour," the company said. "Our customers who buy the spent grain, and thereby free up room for flour, are not being allowed through checkpoints."

The government body charged with enforcing the lockdown has, however, denied that it is not issuing passes, but that it is the company which is failing to collect the documents.

"As of today, new passes have been issued in compliance with applications filed on March 31, but nobody came from the plants to pick them up," the commandant's service said in a statement.

As of February 2, there have been 116 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kyrgyzstan. Of those, five people have recovered. The bulk of positive cases are in the southern regions of Jalal-Abad and Osh.

Following the detection of coronavirus in Kyrgyzstan, the government declared a state of emergency in a number of affected locations, which include the Suzak district of Jalal-Abad region and the Nookat district of Osh region. The same restrictions, which are to remain in place until at least April 15, were later imposed in the capital, Bishkek, and the cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh.

Residents of those places are obliged to adhere to a nighttime curfew and are not permitted to be on the streets from the hours of 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. without justification, which may include shopping for groceries and visits to the pharmacy. The lockdown, which also bars people entering and exiting the cities and districts, is being enforced by rings of armed checkpoints.

The enforcement regime has reportedly given rise to abuses and violations of citizens' rights, however.

The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, said on April 1 that it had detained a police officer for allegedly extorting bribes from companies to allow them to get through checkpoints without the requisite paperwork.

Meanwhile, doctors and other healthcare workers are increasingly complaining about the lack of protective equipment and that they are being forced to buy masks and robes at their own expense.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov on April 1 fired Health Minister Kosmosbek Cholponbayev and Deputy Prime Minister Altynay Omurbekova for shortcomings in managing the response to the epidemic. Jeenbekov had earlier criticized the Health Ministry, saying that it was failing to properly equip laboratories and was providing inadequate protection equipment to frontline staff. Both officials had been in their jobs since April 2018.

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