Officials in Nur-Sultan are working to expand emergency measures to tackle the spread of the new coronavirus in what is Central Asia’s largest and second-populous country, as cases arise.
A month-long national quarantine was declared in Kazakhstan last Monday but the government believes the restrictions should be tightened due to violations of the new rules across the country.
‘‘It is time to move to more severe sanctions and to widely cover these facts in the media for preventive purposes,’’ President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Monday while addressing the meeting of the emergency response commission.
On Wednesday, the number of confirmed cases in Kazakhstan leaped to 80 — just thirteen days ago, there were no cases in the country. At the same time, Kazakhstanis are too skeptical about the coronavirus, with 60 percent saying the threat is greatly exaggerated, according to BISAM Central Asia marketing research company.
The government, however, thinks that the population is underestimating the threat.
President Tokayev said that special quarantine zones in Nur-Sultan and Almaty — the country’s largest city — should be cordoned off even more strictly, while harsh penalties should be introduced for those breaking imposed isolation. Those who are in higher-risk categories of the disease, including those 55 and older should stay at home, according to the president.
The government also ordered to temporarily close all state-owned public service centers in the country, while ensuring the opportunity to use all services online. All public places and shops are already closed in the country, with the exemption of pharmacies, supermarkets, and petrol stations.
Meanwhile, the lockdown could be disastrous for the Kazakh economy, but the government has already budgeted 4.4 trillion tenges or $10 billion as an economic response apart from tax exemption and assistance to local businesses.
‘‘What is the most important is that we have been prepared for the worst-case scenario, and now we understand what needs to be done,’’ President Tokayev said Monday, according to a report by Kapital.kz.
Earlier this week, Kazakhstani businessmen donated more than $40 million to the public fund Birgemiz, which in Kazakh means ‘‘we are together.’’ The money will be used to support vulnerable people affected by coronavirus, according to a statement by the fund’s press service.
The rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has infected nearly 454,000 people and killed more than 20,000 across the world since last December, according to an interactive map from Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
Kazakhstan has long ago ramped up security measures to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
The latest containment measures also include an introduction of a special tracing map that displays information about the places of residence of citizens who have been in close contact with those infected, as well as whether they are quarantined or not. The map also features the latest information on confirmed coronavirus cases in the country.
Kazakhstan air carrier Air Astana said on Monday it would cancel all of its international flights from March 29.