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'Coronavirus-Free' Turkmenistan Bans Cross-Country Trips For Two Months

According to RFE/RL reporters, residents of towns and villages who commute to their jobs in the capital, Ashgabat, have been the ones most affected by the new directive. (file photo)

ASHGABAT -- Authorities in Turkmenistan, the only Central Asian nation that has not officially recorded a coronavirus case within its borders, have banned trips across the country without "extenuating" reasons.

RFERL correspondents report from Ashgabat that until January 1, 2021, any trip across the country can only be made with the approval of special commissions set up by local governments.

There was no official statement on the new regulation, but since October 31 local authorities have stopped performing coronavirus-tests, results of which were necessary to travel across the country.

Under the new rules, trips now are possible only if they are allowed by special commissions due to "extenuating" circumstances, such as written invitations to work, business trips, medical necessity, or the death of a relative.

According to RFE/RL correspondents, the people the new regulation is hitting hardest are those residing in towns and villages whose employers are in the capital, Ashgabat.

The administration of authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has maintained that there have been no confirmed coronavirus infections since the virus emerged from China and has since infected at least 47.3 million people globally.

Despite the claim, many Turkmen citizens say they prefer to stay home when ill, fearing they may become infected with the coronavirus during visits to hospitals that are overwhelmed with patients with COVID-19-like symptoms.

The bodies of those dying of COVID-19-like lung problems are being delivered to their relatives in special plastic bags, and the number of fresh graves across the country is increasing exponentially.

Earlier in August, the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed concern over an increase of atypical pneumonia cases in Turkmenistan and unsuccessfully urged Ashgabat to allow it to organize independent coronavirus tests in the country.