Azerbaijan's beach season, during a pandemic
The Azerbaijani government has opened the beach season at the end of the summer. The height of relaxation on the seashore in Azerbaijan fell in August, with many visiting the shores despite the regulations.
The beach season opens in Azerbaijan on 15 June each year, but this year is an exception to the rule. Beaches across the country only opened on 5 August due to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown introduced in Azerbaijan in late March.
This was one of the two "relaxations" that the government went for in the country where cafes, restaurants, large shopping centers, cinemas, theaters and museums are still closed. The second relaxation is that the rule whereby one had to obtain SMS permission to leave home just once a day and for only two hours was also lifted on 5 August.
To date, 34,474 coronavirus cases and 509 deaths have been reported in Azerbaijan. The first death from coronavirus was recorded on 12 March. On 24 March, the government of the country announced the introduction of a special lockdown. At that point, the country had registered 72 coronavirus infections. Just six days later, the number of infected people rose to 273.
In mid-June, when the registered number of coronavirus patients was already higher than 11,000, the Azerbaijani government announced the introduction of a strict lockdown. On 19 July, the government said that the daily number of coronavirus infections was on the decrease, and 388 new infections were recorded in one day, whereas on 18 July, 497 people tested positive for COVID-19. On 18 August, 131 people tested positive for coronavirus in Azerbaijan.
"Protect yourselves and your close ones from Covid-19"
Prior to the opening of the beaches, state agencies circulated a video tutorial - a set of rules that must be followed while on the beaches.
According to the new rules, before going to the beach, one should visit cimerlik.az, a website created by the Center for the Development of Electronic Government. The website lists Baku's beaches.
Each beach has been set a quota for the number of people that are allowed to be on a given beach at the same time. The number depends on the area of the beach.
At the very beginning, according to the new rules, people had to reserve spaces for themselves or join an online queue, but there is no such requirement at present.
At the moment, one can visit the portal to see the degree of density on the beaches listed, and the number of empty spaces remaining.
According to the rules published at cimerlik.az, one should only use the entrances and exits that are controlled by volunteers. There, you will have to have your temperature taken, be offered disinfectants and also be familiarized with the new rules at the seashore.
In addition, one should observe social distancing, one's hygiene and the requirements of police officers patrolling the beaches, and stay exclusively in areas separated by dividing ribbons.
Because food and personal items are currently not sold on the beaches, you are required to bring your own. Cafes and restaurants on the coast are closed as well.
In addition, it is prohibited to play volleyball, football or other sports games.
According to information circulated by the Ministry of Emergencies, the distance between people arriving at the beach should be two meters except for between family members, and the minimum distance between umbrellas should be four meters.
The ministry notes that the wearing of masks is required in indoor areas on the beaches.
Lifeguards who are on duty on the coast also remind holiday makers about all these rules on the beach through a loudspeaker every now and again.
What do people think about it all?
The new rules have not put residents of the country off sunbathing on the seashore – the beach season in Azerbaijan officially closes on 15 September.
On the very first weekend after the official opening of the beach season, there was a full house on the Baku coast of the Caspian Sea. In discussions on social media people often left comments like "let's rush to the beach in case they suddenly close it again".
People on the Baku beaches that a Meydan TV film crew visited said that they had long been waiting for this decision by the government.
"I wish they had issued these rules a little earlier, five or ten days ago. The doctor recommended that we take our child to the sea, and exactly on the morning of the day the beach opened we brought the child to the sea. Thank God, everything is clean, everything is fine, the water is clean, it is absolutely see-through. Everything is good, everything is fine," a Baku resident told us on the beach.
Few people use the portal, holidaymakers said. Many people trust the words and recommendations of those who have been to the sea before them.
"We did not visit the portal, but we asked relatives and friends and they said that there is actually no need for the portal. There are places, we can swim," another holidaymaker told us.
Volunteers and police monitor the number of holidaymakers on the beaches. If you have arrived at a beach that is already filled, they can even help you find empty spaces on neighboring beaches.
"We input here the number of people who have arrived at this beach, we input the total number of people that are on this beach now," a volunteer on one of Baku's beaches tells us. "Here, for example, the limit is 800 people. If more people arrive, we ask them to go to another area. If three people have entered the beach, we input '3' and click enter, then it automatically becomes 70, and when, for example, three people leave, you need to click exit to go back to the previous figure."
The same volunteers meet you at the entrance to the beach. They monitor the observance of social distancing especially seriously.
"They met us at the entrance to the beach, took our temperature, gave us disinfectant for our hands, and gave us information about where we could have a rest and where we could not, and warned us about social distancing," a middle-aged man told us.
"Undeclared beaches" visits are banned
There are police vehicles at the entrance to the beaches listed at cimerlik.az and police officers are patrolling everywhere.
When the quota set for a beach gets filled, police officers suspend admissions to the beach and direct people to other nearby beaches.
However, there are also the so-called "undeclared beaches" in Baku that are not listed on the portal. The new rules advise caution when visiting these beaches, because they "have not been monitored amid the pandemic". Nevertheless, no announcements have been made about access to beaches not listed being banned.
However, even on the first days after the beach season opened, several amateur videos circulated on social media showed police escorting people from the undeclared beaches.
One of the videos shows a police officer on an uncontrolled beach demanding that citizens leave the area.
"We will completely block the entrance so that nobody can come in here," the police officer says in the video.
Asked by a holidaymaker, "Why? Where should we go for a swim?", the police officer advises him to go to public beaches.
Are the beaches dangerous?
People's reactions on social media suggest everyone had been waiting for the opening of the beach season. Many even believe that the authorities were very late making the decision to this effect. Some celebrities demanded that "at least the beaches should be opened" at a time when all public places in the country were closed.
Nobody is afraid of getting infected with coronavirus at the sea either.
"You can see the distance at which tables and chairs are allowed to be placed one from another to comply with social distancing," a young woman tells us, pointing to large distances between the tables. "That is, there are no problems with that."
Azerbaijani physician Adil Geybulla thinks that the decision to open the beaches is an absolutely correct move.
He says that he and several other physicians had proposed a complete relaxation of the lockdown rules.
"I mean, there should be strict control over people's 'lockdown behavior'; it would be better to open everything and at the same time to demand observance of social distancing, wearing of masks indoors, and use of disinfectants," he told Meydan TV. "For this reason, I do not see any problem with opening the beaches."
Adil Geybulla says that if one observes one's hygiene and maintains social distancing, the likelihood of one contracting the virus at the sea is practically "reduced to a minimum".
"It is even more serious in sunlight. The virus, which is discharged from the mouth and the respiratory tract, cannot remain on stones or sand for a long time at this temperature," the physician explains. "Because of this, the probability of one getting infected on the beach is very low. Certainly, if you are in contact at a very close distance, if you do not follow any rules, that is considered contact and you may get infected. For protection from the virus, the number of people on a beach should match the size of the beach. This is the most important factor. I mean, the number of people should ensure that social distancing is observed. If there are more people, this, naturally, makes it likely for one to get infected."
Jamila Rahimli, a psychologist, says that opening the beaches can even "give back to people a sense of confidence in the future".
The psychologist says that due to the fact that people's habitual lifestyle has changed because of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, they get a "feeling of loss":
"The summer season was coming to an end. Many people had given up hope they would be able to sunbathe this year. This in itself can cause a strong feeling of anger and aggression. In addition, many people believe that swimming in the sea and sunbathing was to reinforce their immune system. However, this opportunity was taken away from them. Some people even firmly believed that the likelihood of them catching the virus and being taken ill increased because they had not been to the sea. These kinds of thoughts make people fear the future."
People on the beaches confirm her comments.
"You know very well that both adults and children need vitamin D, sunlight, and this salty sea water," says a middle-aged man who is relaxing on the beach with his grandchildren. "All this will strengthen reinforce people's immune system. I think that we will defeat the second wave, too."
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