On Sunday, 15 March 2020, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued a decree declaring a state of emergency in Kazakhstan in an effort to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19). This Legal Alert summarizes the Emergency Decreei and the timeline of developments surrounding it.
1. February 2020: Suspension of Air Links to China
In the first half of February, Kazakhstan suspended air links to China, due to the COVID-19 situation in that country. Suspension or reduction of air links to several other Asian locations followed.
2. February - March 2020: Restrictions on Persons Arriving from Certain Countries
From late February to early March, Kazakhstan's Chief State Sanitary Doctor issued a number of binding resolutionsii applicable to all persons, both Kazakhstani citizens and foreigners, entering Kazakhstan from certain countries. These resolutions set forth different categories of countries, and, for each category, they set forth certain consequences (such as mandatory quarantine in a medical facility for 14 days, self-isolation with daily checks by medical personnel, daily checks by phone without self-isolation, etc.). However, the number of categories (subcategories) of countries, the designation of certain countries to a particular category and the consequences of falling in a particular category changed several times.
These restrictions on entry were effectively made moot by the Emergency Decree. But presumably persons who arrived before the Emergency Decree took effect will remain subject to any restrictions applicable to them at the time of their arrival.
3. Entry, Visa and Work Permit Limitations
Since 27 January, Kazakhstan postponed its visa free transit regime for Chinese citizens which allowed them to transit through Kazakhstan for up to 72 hours.
According to reports, Kazakhstan has limited the entry of citizens of China, South Korea, Italy and Iran since early March.
Also, since early March, Kazakhstan reportedly has not been issuing visas or work permits to citizens of countries in Categories 1a, 1b and 2 of the categories established by the resolutions of the Chief State Sanitary Doctor. According to the most recent list at the time of issuance of this Alert, those countries include (among others): China, Italy, Spain, Germany and Netherlands. (The U.S. and U.K are in Category 3). This restriction is not set forth in any publicly available decision of the relevant authorities. Based on an informal Baker McKenzie survey of the labor authorities in a number of regions of Kazakhstan, it appears that this restriction on the issuance of visas and work permits is based on an informal internal order of senior Government officials.
4. 12 March 2020: Restrictions on Certain Public Gatherings and Air Links to Certain Countries
On 12 March 2020, the Chief State Sanitary Doctor issued a much broader and more restrictive resolution which goes beyond restrictions on entry (the 12 March Resolution).iii The most significant restrictions include the following:
- secondary education institutions will have an additional week of vacation, from 16 March through 22 March (preceding their regularly scheduled vacations ending 5 April)
- secondary and higher education institutions are to switch to distance learning, to the extent technically possible
(2) Air Links: international passenger traffic with countries in Categories 1a, 1b, 2 and 3 is “limited” [Baker McKenzie comment: since air links to China and several other Asian destinations had been suspended or reduced previously, and since there were no direct air links with some of the countries in those categories, this restriction most significantly reduced or suspended air links with Germany, several other Western European countries and Iran.]
(3) International Travel: travel to international sports, cultural and tourism events in, and external tourism to, countries in Categories 1a, 1b, 2 and 3 are prohibited [Baker McKenzie note: this restriction has been made moot by the Emergency Decree]
(4) Large Events: from 13 March, a ban is imposed on mass events (festivals, concerts, cultural and sporting events, conferences/seminars, cinemas, children’s playgrounds at shopping and entertainment complexes, etc.)
(5) Protection of Certain Facilities: visits to facilities for particularly vulnerable persons (the elderly, persons with disabilities, etc.) are banned and those facilities are subject to enhanced sanitation and disinfection
5. 13 March 2020: First Confirmed Cases of Coronavirus
On 13 March, Kazakhstan announced that there were three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country. They were reported to be Kazakhstani citizens who had recently returned from Germany and Italy.
6. 14 March 2020: Ministry of Labor Notification
Following the 12 March Resolution of the Chief State Sanitary Doctor, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population posted a notification on its web-site which, among other things, clarified its position on several important labor issues.iv
(1) The 14 March Labor Notification notes that some organizations should limit their activities in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 and that the legislation allows various alternative working arrangements which may be used by them to do so, including the introduction of part-time work, remote (distance) work, and temporary transfers to another position. While the conditions of such alternative arrangements are to be agreed between the parties, wages are to be paid for time actually worked.
(2) The 14 March Labor Notification briefly addresses the possibility of using the “downtime” provisions of the labor legislation, where, for reasons beyond control of the employer or employee, the employee cannot work. The Notification mentions that, during “downtime,” the labor legislation requires an employee to be paid in accordance with the “downtime” provisions of his/her labor agreement (collective agreement), which may be not less than the minimum wage (42,500 tenge per month). While it does not specifically address the case where a labor agreement (collective agreement) does not contain special “downtime” provisions, the implication is that the employer may pay the minimum wage in such a case.Taking points (1) and (2) together, it appears to be the position of the Ministry of Labor that, to the extent feasible, employers should use one or more of the mentioned alternative working arrangements, but where it is impossible to use one of those arrangements, the “downtime” provisions of the legislation may be used.
(3) The 14 March Labor Notification deals with the need of parents who are forced to stay at home with their children during the extended vacation period under the 12 March Resolution. It provides that one of the parents forced to stay with their children must be granted paid annual leave for that period. The Notification does not address the situation where the parent may have already taken all of his/her annual paid leave.
7. 15 March 2020 State of Emergency Decree
The Emergency Decree takes the following steps for the period from 16 March to 15 April:
(1) it “limits” the functioning of “large objects of trade”;
[Baker McKenzie comment:
- this is generally understood to mean a trade facility with a total area of at least 2 000 sq. m.
- these trade facilities are now operating under shortened hours]
(2) it “suspends” the activities of “shopping and entertainment complexes,” cinemas, theaters, exhibitions and other objects with a large numbers of people;
[Baker McKenzie comments:
- restaurants are not specifically covered and, as of the issuance of this Alert, restaurants are continuing to operate
- as of the issuance of this Alert, trade centers and malls are continuing to operate with shortened hours (but any cinemas, children’s playgrounds or other entertainment venues in them are closed). The local authorities appear to have taken the position that a “shopping and entertainment center” may be considered a “large object of trade” once its entertainment venues are closed.v Baker McKenzie understands that the Ministry of Trade and Integration and the Ministry of Health intend to clarify this issue in the near future.]
(3) it introduces a quarantine and orders the carrying out of large scale sanitary and anti-epidemic measures, including with participation of the Ministry of Defense and internal affairs bodies;
[Baker McKenzie comment:
- the reference to a quarantine is not clear, but it is assumed that most businesses and other workplaces are to remain open, other than those closed as a result of the Emergency Decree]
(4) it prohibits holding spectator, sports and other public events, as well as family and commemorative events;
[Baker McKenzie comment:
- this does not cover religious ceremonies or events per se, although large celebrations such as wedding parties might be covered]
(5) it restricts entry into Kazakhstan, and exit from Kazakhstan, by all means of transport, with the exception of Kazakhstani and foreign diplomats and international delegations invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
[Baker McKenzie comments:
- certain additional very limited exceptions from the entry-exit prohibitions are set forth in a notification of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued on the same date as the Emergency Decree (see Item 8 below)
- air and other passenger links with other countries are not entirely cut-off. Rather, links are very substantially reduced to a minimum. For example, flights to and from some foreign destinations have been reduced from as many as 5-7 times a week to one time per week (or in some cases to none at all). This permits the persons subject to the limited exemptions in the Emergency Decree and in the notification mentioned in Item 8 below to enter and exit Kazakhstan.]
The Emergency Decree does not specify the consequences for not following the above rules. But it creates a State Commission vested with certain emergency powers and it authorizes the Prosecutor General to ensure that the Decree is implemented in accordance with the law.
The Emergency Decree clearly raises many important questions and issues. It is expected that the Government will issue answers and clarifications as soon as possible.
8. 15 March 2020: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Notification
Immediately following issuance of the Emergency Decree, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted a notification on its web-site which, among other things, clarifies its position on several important entry-exit issues.vi In particular, the 15 March Foreign Affairs Notification provides the following exemptions (among others) from the entry-exit prohibitions under the President’s Emergency Decree:
- Kazakhstani citizens who were abroad when the Emergency Decree took effect may return home;
- Kazakhstani citizens may travel abroad for medical treatment, upon presenting supporting documentation;
- foreigners who were in Kazakhstan when the Emergency Decree took effect may exit Kazakhstan; and
- members of train, aircraft and sea crews are exempt.
This LEGAL ALERT is issued to inform Baker McKenzie clients and other interested parties of legal developments that may affect or otherwise be of interest to them. The comments above do not constitute legal or other advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for specific advice in individual cases.
i Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan No. 285 dated 15 March 2020 (the “Emergency Decree”).
(a) Resolution of the Chief State Sanitary Doctor of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated 17 February 2020 No. 5 - PGVr “On Further Strengthening Measures for the Prevention of Coronavirus Infection in the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
(b) Resolution of the Chief State Sanitary Doctor of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated 25 February 2020 No. 9 - PGVr “On Further Strengthening Measures for the Prevention of Coronavirus Infection in the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
(c) Resolution of the Chief State Sanitary Doctor of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated 4 March 2020 No. 12 - PGVr “On Further Strengthening of Prevention of Coronavirus Infection in the Republic of Kazakhstan,” as last amended by Resolution dated 14 March 2020 No. 21-PGVr.
iii Resolution of the Chief State Sanitary Doctor of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated 12 March 2020 No. 20-PGVr “On Strengthening Measures to Prevent the Importation and Distribution of Coronavirus Infection in the Republic of Kazakhstan for the Period of a Pandemic” (the “12 March Resolution”).
iv Notification of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population of the Republic of Kazakhstan, dated 14 March 2020 “Features of Work/Labor During the Period of Measures to Prevent Coronavirus Infection” (the “14 March Labor Notification”), https://www.enbek.gov.kz/ru/node/366988.
v See, as one example, letter No. 79-03-26/775 of the deputy akim of the Karasai district of Almaty region dated 16 March 2020 addressed to all entities operating in that district.
vi Notification of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, dated 15 March 2020 “On Restriction on Entry to and Exit from the Republic of Kazakhstan” (the “15 March Foreign Affairs Notification”), http://www.mfa.kz/en/content-view/-3580.