Managing the Coronavirus Pandemic: How does Georgia Compare, and Where are we Now?

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The vast majority of Georgians approve of their government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, but how does public opinion here compare to that in other countries?  Gallup International recently organized a poll in 18 countries on multiple continents, in order to compare experiences and opinions regarding the pandemic.  GORBI conducted the survey here in Georgia, using our telephone panel representative of Georgian and Russian speakers nationwide.  Interviews were conducted with 1,003 respondents between 7 and 12 June, and the average margin of error was approximately 2.5%.  According to our data and the data collected by the polling firms in the other 17 countries, Georgia ties with one other nation for the highest positive assessment of the government’s performance, 94%.

Figure 1: Residents’ assessment of their government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic across countries

Source: GORBI, June 2020, nationwide survey in Georgia. (n=1,003 adult respondents) and Gallup International

Public opinion in most of the other countries where the survey was conducted was substantially lower; as example, the percentage of Russian citizens who assessed their government’s performance positively was less than half that of Georgia’s.

Public opinion, however, can be influenced by many different things, and a high approval rating does not actually prove that the government has handled the coronavirus pandemic well.  Luckily the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research center in the U.S. provides official data from almost every country in the world daily, so we can compare actual infection rates.  Here we compare Georgia to the countries surrounding it, because all had their first cases of coronavirus at about the same time and thus differences in infection rates can be attributed to how differences in how the spread of infection was managed.

Figure 2: Cumulative infection rates in Georgia and in other countries in the region

Source:  Official figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, July 2020

We can see that even adjusting for population size, Georgia’s cumulative infection rate is only a fraction of that in other countries in the region.  The most extreme example here is obviously Armenia, where the cumulative infection rate is 42 times as high as Georgia’s.

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It is also important to keep in mind that these different countries have progressed to different stages in their battle with covid19.  Comparing the cumulative infection rates between countries tells us how effectively the spread of the disease has been contained, but it does not tell us whether or not a country has defeated the virus.  If we start by looking at public opinion data, we can see that Gallup International’s comparative study indicates that this is an area where Georgia really stands out.

Figure 3: Residents’ assessment of the current state of the coronavirus pandemic in their countries

Source: GORBI, June 2020, nationwide survey in Georgia. (n=1,003 adult respondents) and Gallup International

By mid-June a full 95% of Georgians felt that the pandemic was under control in the country, while the highest figure in any other country surveyed was72% and those in other countries ranged as low as 15%.  And indeed the official infection rate data shows us that Georgia had dramatically slowed the rate of infection by then.  However, infection rates have not continued to decline since that time.While the survey was being conducted from 7-12 June the 10-day average number of new infections per day ranged from approximately 4-7, butafter that it became more variable and since the beginning of July it has steadily increased.

Figure 4: Newly confirmed cases of coronavirus in Georgia, 10-day moving average

Source:  Official figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, July 2020

The fluctuations alone should not be seen as a problem, as the total number of new infections in the country per day is so small that relatively few new diagnoses can have a significant impact.  What should be of more concern, however, is that the number of new cases per day has stopped its net decline and has even begun to increase.  This means that it is imperative for Georgians to strictly observe the quarantine rules that remain in place. 

This will be difficult, as the country has already suffered the economic impact of the virus and that impact has unfortunately been massive both in Georgia and in other countries.  An estimated 75% of Georgians have seen their household incomes decrease since the start of the pandemic.

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Figure 5: Self-assessment of the economic impact of the coronaviruson household income across countries

Source: GORBI, June 2020, nationwide survey in Georgia. (n=1,003 adult respondents) and Gallup International

The economic impact of the virus was relatively consistent across countries; many households everywhere are feeling the impact.  The most affected country was India, where nearly 90% of the population has suffered a decrease in household incomeas a result of the pandemic.  However, even in Austria, the country that appears the least economically affected of those surveyed, nearly 40% of the population has experienced the same.

The Gallup International poll indicated that Georgians felt very optimistic about the situation improving soon.  An estimated 63% believed that life in the country will be back to normal by the end of 2020, the second most optimistic outlook across the 18 countries surveyed. 

Figure 6: Outlook on the resolution of the pandemic across countries

Source: GORBI, June 2020, nationwide survey in Georgia. (n=1,003 adult respondents) and Gallup International

Comparatively only 28% of Americans and 37% of Russians shared that sentiment, which is perhaps not surprising as neither has managed to control the epidemics in their countries.

While the recent postponement of the resumption of international flights until 1 September[1]has come as a blow for many, it is important to keep in mind that like the previously enacted measures that have kept infection rates in the country so low, this decision was made based on scientific data.  The 22nd of July saw the largest recent spike in the number of newly reported cases; 24 new infections brought the 10-day average to a level not seen since transmission of the disease was brought under control in early May.  Moreover, 22 of the 24 new cases reported on 22 July had been traced, and seven of those had been imported from abroad.[2]While the tourism industry and many other sectors are already suffering greatly, these measures will benefit the Georgian economy and Georgians in the long term.

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