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Deadly Rumor Has Turkmen Citizens With COVID Symptoms Avoiding Hospitals

Although the coronavirus officially does not exist in Turkmenistan, the authorities have been advising citizens to wear masks due to the potentially harmful effects of "dust."

There were reports on September 7 of Turkmen officials approving an amendment to the law that obligates people who suspect they have contracted a dangerous infectious disease to seek medical treatment and also requires people in hospitals with such illnesses not to leave medical facilities.

That seems logical and hardly worth including in the Criminal Code.

Unless you had heard "the rumor."

Whose Story To Believe?

Telling citizens to seek medical help if they have been infected with a dangerous illness might seem unnecessary, especially with the coronavirus pandemic affecting almost every country in the world.

Almost every country…

Turkmenistan officially does not have any COVID-19 cases, though they have been warning of potentially harmful effects from "dust" in the air in advising people to wear masks.

But there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence that suggests the illness is raging out of control in the country.

If one believes the Turkmen authorities' claim that there is no coronavirus, or any other dangerous infectious illness present in Turkmenistan, then there should be no need for a sudden amendment to the law that not only obligates citizens to seek medical treatment, but allows punishment of two to five years in prison for those who violate the law.

Anecdotal evidence, essentially testimony from, now, dozens of people inside Turkmenistan, suggests hospitals are already overcrowded due to a sharp increase in respiratory illnesses that many believe is the coronavirus or at least the pneumonia caused by that virus.

There have been reports that Turkmenistan's health service is overloaded, even though there is officially no pandemic in the country.
There have been reports that Turkmenistan's health service is overloaded, even though there is officially no pandemic in the country.

There are no free beds, and the relatives of those who fall seriously ill must pay bribes to have their kin admitted to the hospital – and also to get them a respirator.

If one believes this anecdotal evidence, then people seem willing -- even anxious -- to be admitted to hospitals for treatment but the health-care system is overwhelmed.

Turkmen authorities have spent years trying to prevent the outside world from knowing what is truly happening inside the country and that often leaves the outside with only stories and rumors about what is going on in Turkmenistan.

It is impossible to independently verify even something like Turkmenistan's health-care system collapsing.

The Injection

There is a new rumor that has been making its way around Turkmenistan for several weeks, though it is difficult to believe because it is horrible even to consider.

The independent website reported on September 1 about Major Sapa Gurbangulyev of the Vekilbazar district police.

He is said to have become ill at the end of June and eventually was taken to the regional infectious diseases hospital in Mary where he was treated for a high fever and later fluid in the lungs, though he did not seem to be in serious condition.

Gurbangulyev's condition suddenly took a turn for the worse, though, and he had breathing problems before being transferred to another hospital in Yolotan.

On July 3, he phoned his wife to tell her to come quickly and get him out of the hospital, the website reported.

His wife could not enter the hospital because of quarantine rules and called her husband to tell him.

He reportedly told her, "Then they will give me an injection now and kill me."

A half hour later someone from the hospital staff informed his wife that Gurbangulyev had died.

People from around Turkmenistan have been contacting RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, and other media outlets with similar stories.

Commuters wearing masks in "virus-free" Ashgabat
Commuters wearing masks in "virus-free" Ashgabat

Patients are admitted to hospitals with symptoms like those that come with the coronavirus.

They die within a couple of days, sometimes within a few hours of arriving at the hospital, and relatives have to sign a disclaimer saying they have no complaints against doctors or the government in order to receive the body.

Dozens of people have contacted Azatlyk about this and they all believed these patients, who showed signs of being infected with COVID-19, were given injections that killed them.

The bodies are wrapped in plastic and anyone who comes to claim one of those bodies is ordered not to unwrap the body and to bury it immediately.

Again, whether these stories are true or not, the fact is that such tales are spreading around Turkmenistan and people are now afraid to go to the hospital if they are ill, especially if they think they have the coronavirus.

The amendment that not only requires citizens to seek medical treatment if they believe they have a dangerous infectious illness but, more importantly, also forbids people from leaving the hospital without being officially discharged, will only add to people's worries that if they are admitted to a hospital and do have COVID-19, they could be killed.

The Turkmen people are sure the government is lying to them about many things, including about the absence of the coronavirus, and now they are also worried the authorities may kill them if they are unfortunate enough to actually be infected with the disease.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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