In order to stop the spreading the coronavirus Pandemic, a curfew is operable in Georgia from March 31, 2020 - between 21:00 and 05:00 hours it is forbidden to walk outside or be in a car. In emergency cases when during a curfew a person needs to go to the pharmacy to buy a medicine she/he promptly needs or has to visit a sick parent, in order to issue a movement pass a hotline 144 is operable from March 30, 2020. From April 17, since there was a 10-day ban on movements with cars, additional hotline 144-1 became operable to issue where necessary a car pass to persons.
The hotline 144 of the Center for Coordination of Emergency Situations and Urgent Assistance LEPL collects information from different agencies. More than 300 operators in both shifts work in the service of the governmental hotline. Each of them responds up to 5000 calls per day.
The duty of the hotline 144 is to provide accurate information to interested persons regarding the rules and restrictions introduced during the Pandemic, while 144-1 should cooperate with different agencies in order not to leave without a prompt and efficient response any request from citizens regarding the issuance of a car pass.
Humanrights.ge got interested how has the governmental hotline helped the individuals in need of the movement pass during the curfew.
“My spouse was in a traffic jam. It was clear he could not make it to be home before the curfew. He tried to call 144-1, but the line was busy and he could not reach an operator. He called me and asked to help with contacting 144-1. They responded soon. This was a nice operator. She put down information, they called my spouse and verified where he was and what were the circumstances and issued to him a pass,” - says Nino S.
However, many people are not so lucky as Nino. You can find many posts in a social network of Facebook who are aggrieved with the services of 144-1. Among them is Natia Svintradze.
“144 and God damn you, yesterday I was calling at 02:00 in the morning I was calling with a screaming child in my hands, 2 years old child had an earache and they did not provide me with 10 minute pass to allow me to go to the pharmacy. They reproached me of not having the medicine or why I don’t call for an ambulance... The baby never had an earache so I had no medicines. I called the ambulance, they arrived quickly within ten minutes. The doctor got amazed saying he could do nothing as eardrops were not included in first aid but they had to come anyway. The doctor called 144 quarreling what he had to do with the child, and finally they issued a pass exactly for 10 minutes warning us not to be late for even a minute. They spent 30 minutes just to say that a person could go and buy a medicine. I put warm bandages on the baby to ease the ache. Finally, we got a medication around 04:00 in the morning. You should be ashamed? The child was screaming so loud that he burst out. Was it necessary for the child to cry for an hour and ambulance doctor to swear them in order to issue the pass? Is it in such situation that corona increases 10 times or does it mutate and evolves into a dragon?...” – writes Natia.
“All operators are busy at the moment. Thank you for your patience”
It is not easy to reach an operator on the hotline.
“All operators are busy at the moment. Please, wait. Thank you for your patience,” - this is the phrase you would hear most frequently when calling at 144-1. You may fail to reach the operator even after having tried number of times.
“On the way from work to home my car broke down. It took a great deal of time to fix it. Meanwhile it was already getting 21:00. I wanted to ask for a half-an-hour pass in order to get home. I was calling exactly for 30 minutes. All the operators were busy. I was left in the street. From now on, I don’t believe that it is possible to reach the hotline,” - says Tazo G.
After many attempts, Ioseb H. could not reach the 144 operator either.
“He was in Borjomi, in a hotel when he had to go to a pharmacy for a medication. It was 22:30, the curfew was on and that’s why he called 144-1. He called several times. It was busy permanently. Because of unbearable aches, he decided to go to the pharmacy without a pass. He found the pharmacy closed. On the way back, the patrol police fined him with GEL 2000. The cause of his fining was the improper operation of the governmental hotline 144-1. We appealed the fine with the Patrol Police Department and now are waiting for scheduling the proceedings at the Borjomi District Court,” - says HRC lawyer, Ana Chapidze.
Nana M. called 144, but was refused a pass.
“I have a baby of 1 year and 2 months. She was sick and I took her to a doctor. It became late and I could not make home until 21:00. So I called 144-1. After several tries I finally reached them. Though the operator responded, she told she could be of no help, and that I had to think in advance about getting home earlier before going to the doctor, so she could not issue me a pass and hang up the phone. I was amazed. She was leaving me in the street with a child. We returned home though we had not pass. We were lucky not to meet a patrol car and so escaped a fine. If I were fined, I would appeal the fine by all means,” - says Nana.
Diana G. also was refused a pass. She works in one of the drugstores in Tbilisi.
“On January 13, 2021, on the eve of the New Year celebrated according to the Old Style calendar, she was traveling from Tbilisi to Village Velistsikhe of Gurjaani Municipality. Her car broke down near Village Manavi of Sagarejo Municipality. Before she managed to fix the car, it was already around 21:00. As she could not arrive to Velistsikhe in the remaining time, she called 144-1 for a pass. For a long time nobody answered. This is evidenced by the dialed numbers on the phone. When the call was answered, the operator told her that they could not issue her a pass as she was far away from the destination and advised her to call 112 for help. After calling 112, patrol police approached her and fined her with GEL 2000 despite the fact that she was sitting in the car not moving anywhere. We appealed the fine with Patrol Police. The police has refused to revoke the citation and now we are waiting for the proceedings to be scheduled at Gurjaani District Court,” - says Lia Khuroshvili, a lawyer within HRC.
They allowed Nona G. to leave her house, but refused her the right to return back as she needed the pass to see her father in a hospital transferred there by an ambulance. The curfew was already on when Nona’s father living alone became sick. The condition was grave. The ambulance doctor demanded to transfer him to the hospital.
“The father refused to be transported to the hospital. At last, I persuaded him to go, but only on condition that I would join him in the hospital. Exactly for 26 minutes I was explaining to the operator of 144-1 why it was necessary for me to be in the hospital with my sick father. Finally, I was issued a half-an-hour pass. I had to explain that half an hour would not be enough to get from one end of the city to another. The pass was prolonged for another half an hour, but they told me they would not allow me to return back and so I should stay at the hospital. There is even more. They denied a pass to my sister who lives apart and was asking to come to see the father; she was told that the pass was already issued to a member of the family and that was completely enough. When our father was in a grave condition, 144-1 did not give a right to the members of the family to be together,” - says Nona and admits that it would be better that the operators of the hotline would have more empathy and willingness to help.
Why is it so difficult to reach an operator of the hotline 144-1, why the waiting time sometimes lasts for several tens of minutes and why the operators do not issue a pass to the people in need to get out and move around for urgent matters during the curfew? In order to receive the answers on the questions humanrights.ge called at 144-1 which finally responded after a long waiting time answering that the office of governmental hotline does not have a chief/manager and for the detailed information they referred us to the administration of the Government. The Administration of the Government refused to answer the questions without us requesting the public information.
Human Rights Center is implementing the project "Free Legal Advocacy and Human Rights Monitoring after the Coronavirus Pandemic" with the assistance of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Georgia. The objective of the project is to identify the alleged facts of violations of human rights during the state of emergency announced for the prevention of the spread of the Coronavirus, and in the post-pandemic period, and to raise the awareness concerning these matters in Tbilisi and five regions of Georgia - Shida Kartli, Kakheti, Kvemo Kartli, Imereti and Samegrelo.