A quick personal update, plus an insight into what it’s like living in Georgia as the Coronavirus pandemic unfolds.
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Wow, that escalated quickly.
Let me start by saying that I’m safe and healthy, and I sincerely hope you are too.
I love Georgia, but never in a million years could I have imagined I’d find myself ‘stuck’ here for the foreseeable future under the auspices of a global pandemic and a national state of emergency.
If you missed my last travel update (doesn’t February feel like an age ago!), you might not know that Ross and I relocated to Tbilisi earlier this year with the intention of spending some more time in our favourite city and travelling around the region. When we left Australia, we had no inkling of the chaos that was about to unfold.
All things considered, we feel incredibly lucky and grateful to be where we are. Where is that exactly? I will explain – but first, a brief look at what the situation in Georgia has been like over the past few weeks.
Georgia’s national response
In my view (and in the view of people who know what they’re talking about), Georgia’s national response to Coronavirus thus far has been nothing short of incredible.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported here on February 26. A month later, the number of confirmed cases remains below 100. There have been no reported fatalities, and so far, every new case has successfully been traced back to an ‘infector’.
The general consensus is that Georgia is doing a great job of keeping Coronavirus under control. This is largely thanks to proactive measures from the government, who have shown a willingness to step back and let health professionals take the reigns. Small businesses and citizens have made huge sacrifices to flatten the curve as well.
On the ground, we can feel it. The streets have been virtually empty for weeks now as more and more people volunteer to stay at home (there is no mandatory lockdown or curfew in Georgia at this stage. UPDATE: A night curfew is now in place as of March 31 between 9pm and 6pm).
On March 21, leaders declared a month-long state of emergency, capping public gatherings and imposing some other restrictions. It’s just one more addition to an already laudable set of actions.
International flights into Georgia stopped not long after the first case of COVID-19 was reported. A few days later, land borders were sealed. Schools in Georgia closed way ahead of most other countries (pupils went home on March 2 – there were just 3 reported cases of the virus at that stage). Events and festivals were cancelled, quarantine measures put in place to separate the sick, non-essential services and businesses were advised (then soon ordered) to close, and finally last weekend, all inter-city transport came to a halt.
We’re pretty confident in Georgia’s national response – and we’ve feel safe enough here to stay put rather than attempt to travel back home.
Our decision to relocate to Batumi
Well, it wasn’t really much of a decision – we were planning to spend a month in the Black Sea city anyway, and already had an Airbnb booked for the month of April. As things started to escalate, we decided to come early and extend our stay by another month (at least). So this is home for the time being.
I had cold feet before we left the capital, but I think we made the right decision. Batumi is a lot more spread out, there’s fewer people, and lots of fresh air. There seems to be less pressure on services here (Batumi booms in the tourist season but it’s very quiet outside of summer). The markets here have an abundance of fresh produce, and the vibe feels altogether more upbeat (I guess being in such close proximity to the ocean will do that to you).
In Tbilisi, we were struggling to find a quality long-stay apartment within our budget range. Here in Batumi, there are more newer blocks (many of them sitting empty out of season) so we found it pretty easy to get a terrific modern apartment.
We arrived in Batumi a night before our apartment check in date, so we decided to treat ourselves to a mini staycation on the way. Kartuli Hotel is an incredible high-rise hotel with views of the Black Sea (the panorama above was taken from our balcony).
We were the only guests (how’s that for self-isolation). The young couple who own the hotel were gracious enough to still welcome us despite the circumstances. As part of my pledge to continue promoting small and independent businesses during this difficult time, I’m writing a review of Kartuli now – look out for that in the coming weeks.
So, what’s it like here?
People definitely seem more laid back in Batumi compared to Tbilisi (we see fewer masks and gloves, for example). Perhaps because there haven’t been any diagnosed cases here yet. I’ve only been outside a handful of times in the past 10 days to do grocery shopping, but the streets are pretty quiet.
Restaurants are running on delivery mode only, and supermarkets, bakeries and pharmacies are the only businesses that are continuing to trade.
On Sunday nights, baritone rings out through the courtyard below our apartment block – people singing from their windows and balconies to show their solidarity with healthcare workers, a gesture repeated all around the world.
Not speaking the language, we do feel a little bit isolated and out of the information loop. But we’re doing our best to stay plugged into the news and remain in touch with Georgian friends and expats. We’re hopeful that the situation will remain contained here and that life will gradually get back to normal. It’s just a matter of time.
The only thing we’re slightly concerned about is the currency crash – the lari is taking a dive, making it even harder on people who are already struggling with the economic impact of the virus. Georgians have come together in some pretty amazing ways to support their most vulnerable, including crowdfunding to pay utility bills for those who are out of work, and leaving parcels of groceries out on the street for anyone who needs them.
Again, we count ourselves extremely lucky to be in a place where we feel safe and can enjoy a healthy lifestyle, cooking for ourselves, walking on the beach, and working from the comfort of home. I’m very grateful to still have some freelance work on my plate (as you can imagine, my income from travel writing has taken a huge hit). I’m also extremely glad that Ross decided to get into online teaching just before all this started, an industry that seems to be safe so far.
Travel (virtually) to Georgia
Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, some terrific creative initiatives have come out of this crisis. If you were planning a trip to Georgia and had to reschedule, you might find these six virtual cultural experiences a bit of fun.
As always, thanks for your readership and support. Wishing you good health and all the best at this difficult time.