Georgian rescuers have recovered the bodies of four people who drowned in the Inguri River after trying to sneak across the administrative border separating the breakaway Abkhazia region from Tbilisi-controlled territory, to avoid coronavirus quarantine rules.
The four, identified as residents of Abkhazia’s Gali district, drowned as they tried to cross into the Zugdidi region, authorities said on April 7.
Three bodies were initially recovered, while a fourth was found hours later.
Georgia’s State Security Service said the deaths "once again demonstrated the inhuman and criminal nature of the occupation [of Abkhazia], for which the Russian Federation bears full responsibility."
Since 2017, a bridge over the Inguri has been the only route for people looking to cross the administrative border with Abkhazia. That border was hardened after the brief 2008 war in which Russian forces occupied Abkhazia and another Georgian region, South Ossetia. In 2017, the number of administrative checkpoints was cut from six, to one.
Most people living in the Gali district are ethnic Georgians who maintain close contacts with the other side of the river. Many of them must regularly cross the bridge to buy groceries and receive their pensions or medical treatment.
According to the Democracy Research Institute, Abkhazia residents must quarantine for five days when crossing into Tbilisi-controlled territory as part of COVID-19 measures.
The result is some Gali district residents try to sneak in undetected.
"We call on the Georgian government to immediately lift the quarantine, which endangers the lives of people," the institute said in a statement.
After the 2008 war, Moscow recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent. Only a handful of other countries, however, have followed the Kremlin's lead, which has kept Russian forces in both regions.
Georgia has reported more than 268,000 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and 3,650 COVID-related deaths.