Turkmenistan
Women wearing protective face masks, used as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), are seen at a bus stop in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan July 13, 2020. Picture taken July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Sarkisyan

COVID-19 Death Toll Said To Be Rising In ‘Coronavirus-Free’ Turkmenistan

ASHGABAT -- Sources in Ashgabat's health directorate say deaths from COVID-19 are rising in Turkmenistan, where the government has not publicly confirmed a single coronavirus infection since the start of the pandemic last year.

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The sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the topic, told RFE/RL that the daily death toll in the tightly controlled Central Asian state’s capital had reached 70 by last weekend.

Around 1 million of the country’s 6 million or so residents live in the capital.

The sources said Ashgabat’s hospitals were being overwhelmed, and confirmed earlier reports that medical authorities were discouraging patients from going to the hospital or referring them to a newly built hospital in the Yzgant, in the south-central region of Ahal.

“We recommend that all residents not leave their homes if it isn’t urgent,” one of the sources in the capital said.

The government have introduced anti-pandemic measures in all regions of the country and restrictions like mask requirements in public places have been tightened.

But Turkmen government and state-run medical facilities have never acknowledged a single coronavirus infection.

State-controlled media in the former Soviet republic have avoided mention of any ongoing local COVID-19 crisis.

RFE/RL was unable to get responses for this story from the Health Ministry, the State Sanitary and Epidemiology Service, or regional authorities.

There have been other signals of a grinding health crisis in the country despite official denials.

In January, authorities in the eastern region of Lebap instructed employees of state organizations, schools, medical institutions, and schoolchildren to carry personal medicine boxes with them containing among other items, bottles of licorice root syrup to tackle possible “lung disease,” with fines for noncompliance.

That move followed a televised government session at which Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov cited “the great abilities” of licorice root to prevent potential coronavirus infection.

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The International Cycling Union (UCI) announced in June that it was canceling the 2021 Track Cycling World Championships slated for Turkmenistan in October “at the request of the organizers, as the health constraints and restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic make it impossible to stage the event in the country.”

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