Thousands rush to quit Georgia capital ahead of lockdown

Tbilisi (AFP) –


Thousands of Georgians on Wednesday rushed to get out of the capital Tbilisi ahead of a lockdown to be imposed as part of containment measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Motorways were jammed at the exits from Tbilisi as many families left the city, opting to spend the days of a stringent containment in their country houses.

On Tuesday, Georgia's Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia ordered that a state of emergency and general quarantine imposed last month be extended until May 10, also banning entry to and exit from four major cities -- Tbilisi, Rustavi, Batumi, and Kutaisi -– for 10 days starting on Wednesday evening.

Georgia has so far reported 306 cases of COVID-19 and three deaths, one of the lowest rates in Europe.

But after a record 26 new cases were confirmed on Tuesday, Gakharia said "the country has moved on to the stage of a full-scale internal transmission of the virus."

"It is therefore necessary to tighten the measures even further," he told a news conference.

Under the original quarantine conditions, residents were allowed to use their cars during the daytime, as long as there were no more than three people in a vehicle.

"We have to leave today because the city will be locked down tonight," Tbilisi resident Tinatin Kapanadze, 24, told AFP. "Better to go to the village instead of being locked in a flat."

On Wednesday, Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze said Georgia's hospitals would not be able to cope with a large-scale spread of the coronavirus as the tiny country does not have enough intensive care doctors to treat thousands of COVID-19 patients in a severe condition.