Border crossing on the border of Azerbaijan and Georgia

Border crossing on the border of Azerbaijan and Georgia

Prime Minister Ali Asadov's recent decision to extend the quarantine regime in Azerbaijan until July 1 has reignited debates surrounding the necessity and impact of ongoing border restrictions. Despite the World Health Organization's declaration of the end of the pandemic on May 5, 2023, Azerbaijan continues to grapple with stringent measures, particularly at its land borders.

Since March 2020, Azerbaijan has been under a quarantine regime, with multiple extensions based on fluctuating infection rates. However, the persistence of restrictions on land borders remains a contentious issue, especially in light of declining COVID-19 cases within the country. Official statistics indicate a significant decrease in infections, with only 160 active cases reported recently.

The closure of land borders has had profound implications for cross-border trade and movement, particularly affecting regions bordering Iran, Georgia, and Russia. Nazim Mammadov, a resident of Agstafa, laments the loss of economic opportunities, noting how he used to frequent Georgia for cheaper purchases before the pandemic disrupted such trade activities.

It appears that Mazahir Efendiyev, a member of the Milli Majlis Committee on Economic Policy, industry, and entrepreneurship, in an interview with Turan has highlighted the government's decision to close borders during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This decision was aimed at protecting citizens from the virus by implementing preventive measures to limit movements and contact as advised by the international community.

While the government initially justified border closures as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19, critics argue that the prolonged closure lacks economic justification. Economist Rashad Hasanov highlights the adverse impact on livelihoods, particularly in regions heavily reliant on border trade and remittances. The restriction has exacerbated social and economic challenges, contributing to a decline in household incomes and exacerbating regional disparities.

Despite calls for reopening borders to facilitate economic recovery, the government remains steadfast in its decision to maintain closures. Economist Natig Jafarli, in an interview with Radio Azadlig, questions the rationale behind this stance, particularly given the global trend of easing quarantine measures. He suggests that the government's reluctance to lift restrictions may stem from concerns about currency outflows, which could further dampen economic activity: "In our country, the extension of the quarantine regime only serves to close the border".

Indeed, Azerbaijan's economic performance has been lackluster in recent years, with the country recording the lowest GDP growth among CIS nations in the previous year. The closure of land borders is cited as a contributing factor, hindering trade and impeding economic growth.

As Azerbaijan grapples with the delicate balance between public health concerns and economic imperatives, the debate over border closures underscores the complexities of navigating a post-pandemic world. While stringent measures may have been justified during the peak of the pandemic, their continued enforcement amid declining infection rates raises questions about their efficacy and necessity. As stakeholders weigh the costs and benefits of prolonged restrictions, the imperative lies in striking a balance that safeguards public health while fostering economic recovery and social well-being.

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