Health

In photos: Kyrgyzstan's tourism industry reels from COVID-19 pandemic

By Maksat Osmonaliyev

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A beach in Cholpon-Ata sits amost empty. This year has seen far fewer vacationers than in previous years. Cholpon-Ata, Issyk-Kul Province, July 23. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Bekjan and Eldiyar, holding their golden eagles, walk the beaches in search of customers. The boys earn money by allowing tourists to photograph the birds. They said that this year they are taking in an average of 300- 400 KGS ($3.90-$5.20) per day. Last year, they earned double that amount. Cholpon-Ata, Issyk-Kul Province. April 23. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Aman, a nine-year-old from Bishkek, swims between the iron columns of a pier on Lake Issyk-Kul. For many children, the pandemic means canceled travel and vacations. Cholpon-Ata, Issyk-Kul Province, July 23. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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A worker at the Blue Issyk-Kul sanatorium wet-cleans a mirror. The health resort's management is doing everything to comply with health and safety regulations and to prevent the virus from spreading. Cholpon-Ata, Blue Issyk-Kul sanatorium-health resort, Issyk-Kul Province, July 23. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Sanatorium guests receive a warm paraffin treatment on their hands. Masks must be worn on the premises. For the first time in its history, the sanatorium is operating "at one-third of its capacity", said Lira Batyrbekova, manager of the Blue Issyk-Kul sanatorium. "Only 150 of the 450 beds are filled right now. We were expecting guests from Russia and Kazakhstan, but the pandemic prevented tourists from coming. We won’t be able to bring in the income we are expecting this year," she said. Cholpon-Ata, Blue Issyk-Kul sanatorium-health resort, Issyk-Kul Province, July 23. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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The Altan-Kum vacation retreat, seen here, is closed for quarantine. Several guesthouses are closed because operations were not profitable. Chong-Sary-Oy, Issyk-Kul Province, July 24. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Vacationers stroll down the pier of the Marco Polo resort. This year no tourists from Russia or Kazakhstan are visiting, said Yevgeny, the hotel manager. "But we're operating on domestic tourism. Right now there are 70 guests. This time last year there were 520," he said. Boz-Beshim, Issyk-Kul Province, July 26. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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The owner of the Relax guesthouse, Sairagul Makeyeva, waits for customers. Last year at this time, her guesthouse had almost no vacancies, said Makeyeva. She used to charge about 1,000 KGS ($35) per person per day, but this year she is charging one-third of that amount. Guests generally come on the weekends. Cholpon-Ata, Issyk-Kul Province, July 24. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Guests from Karakol make their lunch at the Relax guesthouse, which has been relatively empty compared with past years. Cholpon-Ata, Issyk-Kul Province, July 24. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Local vendors who work along the Karakol-Bishkek highway used to earn a decent income from tourism. They sell fruits, berries, vegetables and other produce. Sales have plummeted this year: two or three buckets of apricots, cherries or blackcurrants per day, compared with about 20 buckets per day in the past. Kara-Oi, Issyk-Kul Province, July 24. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Meerim, a sales clerk in the Epos chain of souvenir stores, combs a stuffed wolfe to beautify its coat. "Souvenir sales have dropped, at a minimum, by about 95%," said Alisa Alexandrovna, an Epos store manager. Bishkek, July 29. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Tourists from Talas Province gaze at the rapid current of the Jeti-Oguz River. One of the most beloved vacation and travel destinations in the country is the picturesque Jeti-Oguz Gorge. Jeti-Oguz Gorge, Issyk-Kul Province, July 25. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Kyrgyz jigits (trick riders) descend a mountain on horseback. Jeti-Oguz Gorge, Issyk-Kul Province, July 25. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Girls ride a horse down a mountain. In recent years, as tourism to the Kok-Jaiyk jailoo has increased, local residents have learned to make money by offering a variety of services. One of them is to provide horses for riding. Kylych, one horse owner, charges 300 KGS ($3.90) to lead riders from the jailoo to the waterfall along the mountain trails. Jeti-Oguz Gorge, Issyk-Kul Province, July 25. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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A mother, holding her daughter, walks along the crest of a hill. Skazka Canyon, where nature created a whimsical, picturesque landscape, is also a popular vacation spot. Tong District, Issyk-Kul Province, July 25. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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A grandfather photographs his grandson on a bronze sculpture of a mountain sheep. "Because of the restrictions related to the pandemic, instead of filling to our capacity of 300 people, the Issyk-Ata resort has welcomed only 100 guests," said G. Asakeyeva, the head doctor at the resort. Issyk-Ata resort, Chui Province, July 27. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

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Kyrgyz Travel is shown in downtown Bishkek on July 29. Economic difficulties are forcing travel agencies to sell or rent out their offices. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

BISHKEK -- Grim statistics on the prevalence of the novel coronavirus are making themselves felt in Kyrgyzstan's battered tourism industry.

Kyrgyzstan has 40,455 cases of COVID-19, including 1,478 deaths, as of Tuesday (August 11), according to the Johns Hopkins University worldwide case tracker.

A lack of tests and their poor quality, many of which are from China, are two reasons why coronavirus is increasingly not being diagnosed or counted as a cause of death

"We hope that there will be no second wave, but we must prepare for it to the maximum ... the government is now taking all possible measures," Tolon Isakov, acting deputy director of the Kyrgyz Department of Disease Prevention and of State Sanitary and Epidemiological Oversight, told 24.kg Monday (August 10).

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A warning sign at the entrance to a beach reminds visitors about restrictions and regulation during the pandemic. Kara-Oi, Issyk-Kul Province. July 24. [Maksat Osmonaliyev]

Last year, tourism accounted for 5% of gross domestic product, and economists expected this share to reach 7% by 2023.

The pandemic has overturned these projections.

"The revenue for the country's travel industry could drop by 70% to 80%," Kyyal Kenjematova, the deputy director of the Kyrgyz Tourism Department, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz service in March.

The COVID-19 virus has decimated the income of many travel agencies.

Islam Azimov, manager of the travel agency Kyrgyz Travel in Bishkek, decided he will either sell or rent out his company's office after putting "many employees on forced, unpaid leave".

Worsening the situation is a shortage of hospitals, medicine and medical personnel, and a continuing campaign of disinformation from foreign powers trying to cause confusion and panic in Central Asia.

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