Enguri Bridge. (DFWatch.)

GALI, DFWatch–Gali residents demand the opening of the checkpoint on Enguri Bridge and the lifting of the five-day quarantine for travelers that have been tested for Covid-19. 

Locals told DFWatch that because of the quarantine requirement, many people have resorted to a dangerous route, wading through the surging Enguri river at the so-called black crossing, bypassing the checkpoint.

Only certain categories of people are currently allowed to cross the administrative borderline. This includes pensioners, parents of many children and people with disabilities. However, only those in need of emergency medical care can cross without having to go into quarantine.

Locals are unable to get proper medical care, have problems with access to vital medicines, and have to buy the product at double the price in the Gali market. In desperation, many opt for the illicit ‘black’ crossing across the river and exposing themselves to great risk.

“It is a great benefit having an opportunity to transport people in need of emergency care, but what about ordinary people who fall in neither category? Such people take risks and resort to the ‘black crossing’. Due to the ongoing works on the Enguri hydropower plant, the water level of the Enguri is quite high, and the river is always flooded in the spring, which increases the risk of a fatal outcome. Wading through the frozen Enguri during this period has a direct effect on health. How long do we have to be locked up and be treated like aliens? Aren’t we worth enough to take quick tests directly on Enguri? Please bring this note to the government,” a 55-year-old man from the village of Nabakevi in ​​the Gali district told DFWatch.

The Enguri bridge was closed by Sokhumi in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has since been opened several times periodically, but only in one direction and only for the groups mentioned, as well as university students and people in need of medical assistance. The majority of the population have been denied freedom of movement during the pandemic. 

The Georgian government announced the opening of the administrative border in February, but it turned out that only limited categories were allowed.

One of the locals tells us that he had to surrender to the Russian border guards after attempting the alternative route.

“I had to undergo surgery. At the time, the quarantine was 12 days-long and since the operation was not urgent, I had to spend these 12 days in the hotel. I have a big family and a farm here, which I can’t leave unattended for so long. I was forced to cross the river through the black crossing and caught a cold. I couldn’t return back by the same route as I was weakened after surgery and wasn’t able to wade across the river. Hence, I chose the route, where I would surely be detained by Russians, and soon found myself jailed at a Russian military base, paid a fine of 3,000 Russian rubles (USD 41) and was released. Why do we have to do such things?! When we raise this question no one can answer,” a 65-year-old man from a village in the Gali district told DFWatch.

For the year now that the bridge has been closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, the problem has been somewhat resolved for retirees. They are served by a UN car that takes them across the Enguri Bridge to receive a pension in Liberty Bank and then takes them back.