The government of Uzbekistan has announced a unique plan that will see visitors paid 3,000 US dollars if they contract Covid-19 while in the country. Authorities claim that the amount covers the cost of treating coronavirus in the country, and is part of a wider campaign to aimed at welcoming visitors back to the country.
“We want to reassure tourists they can come to Uzbekistan,” explains Sophie Ibbotson, Uzbekistan’s official tourism ambassador to the UK. “The government is so confident that the new safety and hygiene measures being implemented across the tourism sector will protect tourists from Covid-19, that the president is prepared to put money where his mouth is: if you get Covid-19 on holiday in Uzbekistan, we will compensate you.”
The 3,000 US dollars compensation payout is subject to certain conditions, however. Any tourists who happen to come down with Covid-19 will need to have been travelling with a local tour guide, who will be certified in safety and hygiene guidelines. Tourist sites and accommodation will also be required to gain certification from the government to ensure that they’re meeting the new standards of sanitary and epidemiological safety.
Uzbektourism, the state committee for tourism, is compiling a register of certified businesses to give tour operators and tourists confidence that the places where they will stay, eat, and visit are safe. At the same time, businesses which do not comply with the new hygiene standards and can be traced as the source of infections will be held liable for treatment costs.
Domestic travel within Uzbekistan resumed on June 1 for those travelling between no- or low-infection “green” and “yellow” zones. International flights restart this month, with arrivals from low-risk countries such as China, Israel, Japan, and South Korea able to enter without restrictions. Arrivals from the EU and UK are permitted to enter so long as they spend 14 days in self-isolation, but this requirement will be waived as soon as these countries get their own infection rates under control and arrivals no longer pose a public health threat to Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan took an aggressive, pre-emptive approach to stopping the spread of Covid-19, closing to tourists on March 19 when there were only a handful of confirmed cases in the country. Closed borders, grounded flights, and strict lockdown measures have resulted in one of the world’s lowest Covid-19 death rates: as of July 20, just 85 people have died of the virus in the country, although there has been a slight spike in the number of new cases over the past two weeks.
Since taking office in 2017, President Shavkat Mirziyoev has made tourism a priority sector for Uzbekistan. The citizens of more than 80 countries are able to visit Uzbekistan visa-free. International visitor numbers more than doubled from 2017-19, and last year 6.7 million people visited the country. Global brands such as the Hyatt and Hilton hotel chains have opened properties in Tashkent, and Uzbekistan Airways has expanded its fleet and route map with direct flights to cities such as London, New York, Paris, Frankfurt, and Milan.
In 2019, tourism contributed 1.3 billion US dollars to GDP, and although economic growth is expected to slow in 2020 to around 1.5 per cent due to Covid-19, the International Monetary Fund predicts it will be one of very few countries worldwide to avoid recession.