The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Azerbaijan began in February. The first case of infection was recorded on February 28 and first death on March 12. As of April 17, Azerbaijan had 1,340 confirmed cases, 15 death and 528 people were recovered. The main source of infections was people who traveled to Azerbaijan from Iran – the epicentre of the outbreak in the Middle East. Despite the fact that Azerbaijan has border and close tourism relations with Iran, necessary measures have been taken in the early stages of the outbreak, which prevented the mass spread of the coronavirus. The first important measure was the closure of the border with Iran as of February 29 after the two Azerbaijan citizens who were returning from Iran tested positive for coronavirus.
As the the number of infections began to increase, other important and strict measures were taken. All land borders with the neighbors were closed and education and related activities have been suspended until April 20, later extended to May 4. Over 10,000 Azerbaijani citizens were evacuatedfrom other countries. Beginning from March 14, certain measures on social isolation began to be implemented, including the cancellation of large-scale events such as weddings, funerals and the closure of cinemas, museums and theaters.
From March 24 according to the Article 25 of the Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan on sanitary-epidemiological safety the government declared special quarantine regime until May 4. Based on the rules of the special quarantine people above the age of 65 are banned from leaving home. Entry and exit to/from Absheron region which hosts Baku – the capital of the country and the second largest city Sumgayit and transportation between districts and cities was restricted (except the special-purpose vehicles). Along with these measures the operation of all shopping centers and the movement of subway trains (from March 31) in Baku was suspended.
Later, on April 5 the Azerbaijan’s government tightened quarantine rules in order to monitor movements of citizens and to encourage people to stay in their homes and apartments. According to the new rules, citizens could leave their homes only if they going to visit grocery stores, pharmacies, medical facilities and banks. For this citizens have to obtain permission by sending a text message.
Despite the fact that all taken measures are effective in preventing the mass spread of the coronavirus, it has also substantial economic implications. As the special working regime have been implemented in different sectors of economy during the quarantine, it has substantially weakened business activities and the development of different economic sectors. This situation created unemployment problems and financial risks. Taking into account the seriousness of the situation and the damage that workers and companies could face, the government stepped in to support the businesses, their employees and economy as a whole. For this purpose different economic and social measures began to be taken.
In order to coordinate all taken measures to fight COVID-19 on February 27 an operational headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers was created. In the early March 10 million manat (5,9 million USD) was allocated to the Cabinet of Ministers to ensure that all necessary measures will be implemented on time. On March 19, President Ilham Aliyev announced the creation of the Fund to Support Fight Against Coronavirus and contributed his yearly salary to the fund. Also, additional 20 million manat (12 million USD) was allocated from the President’s Contingency Fund to the newly established fund to increase the effectiveness of the taken measures and to ensure material support to the medical workers providing relevant services. As of April 16, the total donations of different state agencies, companies and citizens to thefund have reached 112,233 million manat (65 million USD).
Also, on March 19 the President issued an order to allocate1 billion manat from the state budget to the Cabinet of Ministers for the implementation of measures to reduce the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy, to ensure macroeconomic stability, to support employment and entrepreneurship. For the effective implementation of assigned measures the Cabinet of Ministers adopted an action plan which contains theprogram of compensation for the damages to the entrepreneurs and their employees beginning April 8. The program covers 300,000 employees, 42,000 employers and about 300,000 private and micro-entrepreneurs. The program stipulates the allocation of 215 million manat (126 million USD) to preserve the salaries of the hired workers and 80 million manat (47 million USD) to support the individual entrepreneurs.
Along with supporting businesses the governmentallocated 400 million manat (235.2 million USD) to support social protection of citizens. Within the framework of the social package 190 manat ($112) lump-sum was planning to be paid to 200,000 unemployed citizens in April and May (then number was increased to 600,000). Another 50,000 unemployed people will get 300 manat aid per month. For the employees who had the salary higher than the monthly average the upper limit of social aid is set at 712 manat. Social protection measures also include the creation of 50,000 paid public jobs, the increase of monthly preferential electricity consumption limit for citizens by 100 kilowatts per hour in April and May, allocation of 40 million manat (23 million USD) for the training of students from low-income families and 280 million manat (164 million USD) for the vital passenger transportation. According to the taken measures in social sphere 20 million manat worth unemployment insurance payments will be expanded to 20,000 people. .
The government of Azerbaijan also began to implement the credit and guarantee support program which enables businesses to get loans with preferential terms. The total amountof funds allocated for this program is 1,5 billion manat (882,3 million USD). Through this program the government will provide state guarantee for 60% of new issued loans which amounts to 500 million manat (294 million USD). The highest percentage for the guarantee loans will be 15% and half of the percentage payments will be subsidized through the budget funds. The program will also support entrepreneurs with the existing loan portfolios who work in the coronavirus affected sectors. The government will subsidize 10% of the interest expenses of these loans for one year and for this purpose 1 billion manat (588 million USD) were allocated. All the measures related to the provision of preferential loans to businesses also support stability of the banking sector as without the government’s support the banking sector have risks to lose revenues that they acquire from the operations of these businesses.
The economic support program of the government also envisages tax benefits, privileges and holidays for businesses entities. The tax payers engaged in catering activities will have simplified tax reduction and exemption from income tax. The import and sale of the products necessary for food and medical security and the raw materials that used in the production of these products will be temporarily exempt form Value Added Tax (VAT). Zero rate of the VAT will be applied to the services provided for the prevention of the pandemic. Tax concessions also include the extension of the deadline of income tax payments of 2019, provision of simplified tax exemptions to the micro-enterprises, the exemption from the property and land taxes until the end of the year, the exemption from the current tax payments for the specific industries, the exemption of the taxpayers from income tax for the relevant amount and period.
With the implementation of all these economic and social programs Azerbaijan became the country that allocated the biggest share of GDP to eliminate pandemic related economic problems among the post-soviet countries. All the budgetary funds that were allocated to support economic development, businesses and social protection of citizens reached 3 billion manat (1.8 billion USD)which is 12% of the state budget revenues and 3,5% of GDP. Creating favorable economic condition in the post-pandemic period is as important as supporting the economy in the period of the pandemic. Therefore, all programs under implementation and the huge amount of government funding will support the stability of economic development in the long-term period.