KYIV – As Ukraine enters the second month of its coronavirus quarantine, new restrictions were enacted on April 6. With 1,668 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of April 8, Ukraine remains one of Europe’s least affected countries (per capita). However, the paucity of virus testing leaves observers to suspect that the real number of those taken ill is highly undercounted.
New quarantine measures are forcing Ukrainians to stay home both for fear of infection and a huge fine for non-compliance with the rules. For a violation of quarantine rules, a penalty of between 17,000 hrv ($623 U.S.) and 34,000 hrv ($1,246) is envisaged. Moreover, for violating sanitary laws and regulations for the prevention of infectious diseases, a person faces criminal prosecution.
Beginning on April 6, being in public places without a facemask or a respirator is prohibited. “Considering the rate of the spread of the coronavirus, all people are considered to be potentially infected,” the government explained. “One may not be aware that he/she carries the virus, but puts other people at risk. The mask serves as the barrier to the possible infection of others. When the mask is on the face, the amount of released biological material into the surrounding air that may contain the pathogen is reduced.”
Also banned are: groupings of more than two persons (except for exigencies of work and accompanying children); the presence in public places of children under age 14 without their parents; and visiting parks, public gardens, recreation areas, forests, coastal areas, sports and playgrounds (except for the walking of pets by one person and in cases of emergency). This restriction was actively criticized because walks and jogging are made impossible under the new rules, while the government has not closed down pawnshops and churches.
Also forbidden by the new rules is being on the streets without an ID card. “The need to carry identification documents will allow for checking whether a person should be in self-isolation or in observation,” explained the Cabinet of Ministers in a statement released to the public. “It will also enable law enforcement agencies to apply administrative liability to quarantine rules violators.”
Moreover, there are rules for home isolation and observation. The self-isolation regime is monitored by the police, the military, the National Guard, employees of public institutions of the Ministry of Health, and others.
While the new restrictions sparked a lot of criticism from civil society – with some even calling them anti-constitutional as they prevent freedom of movement – President Zelenskyy said he believes these measures are essential in the fight against coronavirus.
“Quarantine is what saves us. Because we have introduced it in time, the spread of coronavirus is not so fast. We see that many Ukrainians have a responsible attitude towards quarantine, although this is not easy. We must be responsible for the people and do everything to make their lives easier at this time,” Mr. Zelenskyy said after an online conference call with heads of regions and cities.
The Ukrainian government is not considering easing quarantine measures at this point. Ukrainians will celebrate the Easter holy days at their homes, as the new restrictions are designed to prevent crowds. The World Health Organization has also urged that quarantine measures be kept in place, the government said.
In addition to the health crisis, Ukrainians also face economic troubles, as most businesses have shut down or have switched to online activity only.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal reported that the government has developed programs of payments to people in the lowest income brackets. “Yesterday, we started to make additional payments to pensioners who are over 80 years old. Next week, we will send an additional 1,000 hrv [a one-time payment]to those who have [monthly]pensions below 5,000 hrv. And by the end of April, all such pensioners will have received this money,” Mr. Shmyhal said.
The prime minister noted that in the near future an appropriate plan for the gradual loosening of the quarantine measures will be developed. “In the case of positive dynamics, we will kick start the economy of Ukraine according to a developed plan that will be presented by the government and communicated in detail,” he explained.
In accordance with the instructions of the president, the government has classified the categories of the population that will be assisted. These are: the unemployed, low-income families with children, and small and medium-sized enterprises. “It is good that we have already developed the tools and calculated the funding to help Ukrainians. Now we need to move as fast as possible so that people get the money and feel relief,” Mr. Zelenskyy stated
Ukraine’s authorities are also tightening restrictions on the border to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. As of April 7, Ukraine’s state border can be crossed only by motor vehicles and only through 19 checkpoints. A total of 115 checkpoints will be temporarily closed, and pedestrian traffic will be temporarily suspended at 28 checkpoints. There is also a temporary closure of checkpoints across the state border for international passenger transportation by rail, air and road (i.e., buses).
To inform citizens more quickly, the Ministry of Digital Transformation presented a creative solution: users of the Diia (Action) mobile application will be able to receive push notifications with the latest information about the coronavirus pandemic. The first messages were about quarantine rules. “Subsequently, users will receive as push notifications news about government decisions, practical advice on how to protect themselves from infection, and more,” the ministry said. The initiative is aimed to help slow down and stop the spread of the virus in Ukraine.
“Systematic messaging will allow Diia users to keep abreast of the latest developments in the quarantine regime,” Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov noted. “In this way, the state will promote a responsible attitude toward health – one’s own and others’. The push messages in the Diia app are intended to promptly provide relevant, up-to-date and reliable information from the state to Ukrainian citizens,” said Mr. Fedorov, who is also a deputy prime minister. More than 2 million Ukrainian citizens are users of Diia. They now have access to a driver’s license and vehicle registration certificate on their smartphone, as well as a digital student ID.
What is foreseen as a minimum of one and a half months’ quarantine will profoundly affect the education process. Thus, the government’s solution is to bring the school into homes. On April 6, the broadcasting of lessons for pupils in grades 5-11 was launched on the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine (MES) YouTube channel, as well as on 14 TV channels and media resources. On the MES YouTube channel, there are lessons for each class. Under each video, students find recommended homework that is designed to provide a review of the subject being taught. For those pupils who have problems connecting to the Internet, all lessons are broadcast by Ukrainian TV channels
It is not only the government of Ukraine that is searching for solutions amid the coronavirus crisis. Businesses and entrepreneurs have been active in helping health-care providers fight COVID-19, starting with the purchase of necessary medical equipment and ending with help to individual health workers. As of the beginning of April, these donations totalled about 1 billion hrv.
Such companies as Silpo, Epicenter, Nova Poshta, Meest, SoftServe, Enzym and EPAM have donated to fight the coronavirus on the local level. First of all, Ukraine needs ventilators and personal protective equipment for medical personnel. The hope is that combined private and governmental efforts will succeed in fulfilling the need for such essential equipment.