COVID-19: Health Professionals Plead with Georgians to Stay Home during Easter Festivities

Several high-profile health officials and physicians have made a plea to Georgian public to stay at home and strictly adhere to social (physical) distancing guidelines during the upcoming Easter celebrations in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Doctors’ appeals came after government’s declaration yesterday that parishioners of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) will be permitted to attend Easter Vigil despite nighttime curfew and other state of emergency restrictions.

Amiran Gamkrelidze, head of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC), told Rustavi 2 TV on April 16 that Georgia saw two spikes in infections in the last three days, signaling higher risks of community spread in the foreseeable future.

Gamkrelidze predicted the number of active cases might hit 2,000-2,500 until May 10, provided that the country continues applying existing restrictive measures. However, Gamkrelidze warned, “if we adopt lax behavior [easing restrictions], the total number of cases may jump above five, seven, or even eight thousand,” dramatically increasing the burden on the healthcare system.

“Next four days will be decisive…Stay at home! Do not go to Churches! Pray from [your] houses! God will forgive us [for not visiting churches on Easter], as this will save lives of more Georgians,” implored country’s chief health official.

“I beseech you all, laymen and clergymen, observe physical distancing [rules],” said Levan Ratiani, Director of the First University Clinic, at a briefing today. “You can’t imagine what’s going on in the ICUs, people are suffocating, because family members did not take care of each other,” Ratiani told journalists.

On April 15, Paata Imnadze, deputy head of NCDC, entreated Georgians not to observe  traditions, including religious ones, for once in a bid to “save the nation.” He warned of “imminent danger,” that Italy’s scenario (one of the hardest hit countries in Europe by the pandemic) might recur in Georgia in case of defying public health recommendations.

Yesterday, on April 15, Government’s spokesperson Irakli Chikovani announced that parishioners of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) will be allowed to attend dusk-to-down Easter Vigil in church houses, albeit with some restrictions.

The spokesperson noted that parishioners will be able to attend service in large churches (cathedrals), provided that they observe the two-meter physical distancing advice, while only clergymen and lay assistants of the clergy will be allowed to enter smaller, less spacious church houses. Meanwhile, Chikovani reiterated that all citizens are obliged to obey the nighttime curfew (effective from 9 pm to 6 am), implying that parishioners attending Easter Vigil must not leave church premises until daybreak.

Andria Jagmaidze, GOC’s spokesperson, stated that “churches will not be shut down for parishioners and they can celebrate the holiday in a traditional manner.”

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