The life of an Ambassador during Covid-19

António Buscardini from Travel Tomorrow

Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the Kingdom of Belgium, Dilyor Khakimov, speaks about his life as a Digital Diplomat, the actions taken by the government of Uzbekistan to assuage the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and more

1. How has it been for you to be a Digital Diplomat since the rules of confinement were implemented?

This pandemic has proven that we live in a different age, different type of communication.In these difficult times, and thanks to technology, we are still able to communicate with each other, which is one of the most important human needs. Our government is very active keeping the communication open with its partners, specially with the European Union. Our President was in touch with the President of the Council, his excellency, Charles Michel. Also our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamilov Abdulaziz Khafizovich had a conversation with Josep Borrel, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs. As for the specifics of this office, we have been in regular contact with our partners in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Also with Members of the European Parliament, the External Action Service. I think this is an opportunity that will define our future. I expect that this practice will continue even after we are able to control the Corona virus.

2. Uzbekistan has about 33 million inhabitants, some of them living in remote rural areas. How challenging was it to explain to the population the risk linked to this pandemic?

I was in the Khorezm region when the sanitary measure came into effect. The impact in our country was in many ways similar to other countries. There was a certain level of uncertainty. Up to today we have 3,378 reported cases of people infected. Thirteen people have died. The economic impact has been high, specially when talking about certain industries in Uzbekistan. The hospitality industry in general. Our government has been innovative in facing those challenges. For instance, we implemented Smart Lockdown. We have a system of three types of regions -green, yellow and red- depending on the number of cases reported.

We have also implemented a system where people who do not follow the rules are fined. It took about ten days for people to understand the need for those rules. It helped that the government was always transparent sharing the information received from our partners.

3. Most of Uzbekistan’s neighbors show a low number of infections. This is not the case with Russia. What are the risks of having a neighbor with so many infections?

Russia is among the three top trading partners of Uzbekistan. There are about 1,5 million Uzbek citizens who visit Russia on a regular basis. From the beginning, the Uzbek government conducted a huge analytical work to assess from which countries there could be a risk of someone bringing in the disease.When people returned, the government made sure that they would follow the required 2-week quarantine period. We found out that some of the infected people I reported earlier had previously been in destinations such as Russia, China, South Korea and the Middle East. Uzbekistan offered medical supplies to countries like Hungary, China, Russia, Belorussia, Kyrgyzstan, many other countries. It was part of a common fight against the virus.

4. Tourism has been hit by the pandemic. Over the last ten years, Uzbekistan has done a tremendous job at promoting the cultural and historical attractions in the country. What is the support the government is offering to the sector?

It is true. Tourism has become an economic driver in Uzbekistan. But the pandemic has hit the sector. And the government has assessed how it can help. One measure I can mention is that those small and medium businesses in the tourism sector affected by the pandemic, were offered loans from the government. Starting in June, the government has encouraged its people to consider internal tourism, especially towards the “green” zones with low numbers of infections. Yesterday we had a videoconference with the Chairman of the State Committee for Tourism Development, Abdulaziz Akkulov, and the UN’s World Tourism Organization to assess what the next steps will be. One strategy that’s being considered is looking at the country of origin, which will be an indicator of the risk of contagion. Another point of discussion is analyzing the whole value chain in the tourism industry, from transport to accommodation, making sure the appropriate safety measures are in place.

I want to thank you for your efforts and initiative to address these issues. How we will travel tomorrow is something that needs to be discussed.

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