Some of you will have already heard, but one of the stranger news stories to come out of the COVID-19 crisis is that of the US$3000 payment that Uzbekistan has announced.
That’s right, Uzbekistan, the Central Asian republic, surrounded by Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, is offering US$3000 to anyone who travels to Uzbekistan and catches the coronavirus. If you test positive while travelling there, you will be compensated by the move the Uzbek government has said will kick start its rapidly growing tourism industry.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed the decree and launched the “Safe Travel Guaranteed” campaign last week, in a bid to reinvigorate the nation’s growing tourism sector. Uzbekistan has only recorded 88 deaths during this crisis, however, the former Soviet Central Asian countries aren’t known for their honesty in government reporting, so the disease could be a lot worse than we know.
So what is the catch?
There are, of course, conditions. The main condition is you need to utilize the services of an Uzbek travel company and have a fully booked, fully inclusive tour. This means that to be eligible, independent travel is out of the question.
Another condition is that your guide/guides, all accommodation, and any other services you used, all have the appropriate coronavirus hygiene and health certification. That’s obviously something I assume most tourists won’t be able to accurately check when choosing where to eat for lunch. Not to mention the fact that the bureaucracy involved in getting said certification means it’s out of the question for a lot of individuals and smaller businesses.
For those of you thinking this could be a sound financial decision, just remember that totalitarian former-soviet dictatorships aren’t known for making things easy when it comes to holding up their end of a bargain. I wouldn’t be surprised if the onus of proof then fell on you with a list of impossible tasks, such as proving you didn’t have the disease before entering the country, providing non-existent documentation about where you’ve been and what services you used, or requiring you to get tests done that don’t exist in Uzbekistan.
The other cynical outlook is that it’s easy for them to make the offer when they aren’t currently allowing most people to enter the country. Presumably, as soon as they do let more of us in, they’ll realise that COVID-19 will be brought with the tourists and that their offer is unsustainable. Only passport holders of four countries at the moment – Israel, China, Japan and South Korea – are allowed to use the normal evisa process.
Uzbekistan isn’t the first place to make this type of offer, with the Mexican city of Cancun offering to pay for half of all hotel costs for any visitors. Likewise, Sicily in Italy has made the same offer. Maybe we’ll see more of a trend of governments actively subsiding people’s travel costs in order to jump-start their struggling economies..