Turkmenistan leader opens new hospital, insists country virus-free

AFP , Saturday 14 Nov 2020

Turkmenistan's strongman leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov insisted his reclusive country had no coronavirus cases

Putin & Berdimuhamedov
Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (L) shakes hands with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin after presenting him a Turkmen shepherd dog, locally known as Alabai, during a meeting in Sochi, Russia October 11, 2017. REUTERS

Turkmenistan's strongman leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov insisted his reclusive country had no coronavirus cases on Saturday, state media reported Saturday, even as he opened a new hospital for infectious diseases.

Berdymukhamedov hailed the country's "big achievement" in avoiding the coronavirus in comments reported by the state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan.

"As a result of the preventive measures taken, no cases of coronavirus infection have been registered in the country to date," Berdymukhamedov said.

Hardline Turkmenistan and North Korea are among less than a dozen countries yet to declare a single coronavirus case. The other countries are Pacific island nations.

The Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands and Vanuatu all declared their first cases in recent weeks but have avoided community transmission.

Berdymukhamedov's virus-free claim is his first since a visit in July by a World Health Organization delegation prompted the government to implement a national lockdown.

Dissident-led media based in Europe have reported an explosion of coronavirus cases, but their websites are banned in the country where there is no free press or political opposition.

WHO's Senior Emergency Officer for Europe Catherine Smallwood recommended the government adopt measures "as if COVID-19 were already circulating" during her visit but stopped short of publicly doubting the government's virus-free boast.

Prior to the visit Turkmenistan held several events involving thousands of people to mark important dates in the state calendar like Horse Day in late April and World Bicycle Day in June.

The new hospital opened by Berdymukhamedov has a 200-bed capacity and can treat "viral hepatitis, infectious diseases of the upper respiratory tract... and diseases transmitted by airborne droplets," Neutral Turkmenistan reported.

The hospital's equipment includes mechanical ventilators manufactured by the Swedish medical technology company group Getinge, according to the report.

Turkmenistan's government has closed the country's borders to foreigners until next year while prohibiting places of worship, all restaurants and most shops from working until December 1.

Domestic passenger trains and intercity buses are also forbidden from working until January 1.

Turkmenistan's health ministry in July recommended citizens wear masks due to "high concentrations of dust" and "pathogens" in the air.

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