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COVID-19: Uzbekistan Remains Under Lockdown; Iran Frees Prisoners Amid Pandemic

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A police officer enforcing a coronavirus lockdown in Yerevan, Armenia.

The global death toll has surpassed 33,800 with over 718,000 infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here's a roundup of developments in RFE/RL's broadcast countries.

Russia

Authorities in Moscow will impose on March 30 tighter restrictions on residents in an attempt to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.

Residents of the Russian capital will only be allowed to go out to buy food or medicines at their nearest shop, get urgent medical treatment, walk the dog, or take out the trash.

Those needing to go to work will also be allowed to leave their homes, and authorities will introduce a system of passes in the coming days.

"Gradually but steadily, we will keep tightening control as needed in this situation," Sobyanin said on his website on March 29.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Russia has exceeded 1,500, with 270 new cases in the past 24 hours, health authorities reported.

Eight fatalities have been recorded so far, Russia's anti-coronavirus crisis center said on March 29.

Most of the news cases -- 197 -- were reported in Moscow, which accounts for more than 1,000 infections, according to Sobyanin.

Earlier on March 29, Sobyanin said the “situation with the coronavirus spread has entered a new phase. More than 1,000 coronavirus cases have been recorded in Moscow."

Russian health officials have warned that a sharp increase in the number of cases in the country is expected in the coming days due to expanded testing in Moscow.

Authorities in Moscow also closed shopping centers, restaurants, and larger parks from March 28 for at least a week. Moscow authorities have encouraged people to stay home, and begun restricting public transit.

Meanwhile, the Russian government has announced it will “temporarily” close the borders starting on March 30 to curb the spread of the outbreak.

The measure will not apply to Russian diplomats and the drivers of freight trucks, among others, the government said on March 28.

Earlier, the Kremlin said that a member of President Vladimir Putin's administration has been infected with the coronavirus, but the person had not been in direct contact with Russia's leader.

On March 25, Putin postponed next month's referendum on sweeping constitutional changes that could allow him to remain in power until 2036 because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

Putin also called for the week between March 28 to April 5 to be a nonworking week -- essentially a weeklong holiday for the country to "prevent the threat of the quick spread of the illness."

The government also ordered all vacation and health resorts closed until June.

Other restrictions ordered by the government included the cancelation of all international flights.

Uzbekistan

Less than 15 days after Uzbekistan detected its first coronavirus infection, the government in Tashkent reported 11 new cases on March 29, bringing the nationwide total to 144.

"Another 11 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the country, the total number of infections is 144," the press service of the Health Ministry said in a statement.

The Central Asian country reported its first case of the respiratory illness on March 15 and on the same day authorities imposed a quarantine in all preschools and educational facilities and canceled all mass gatherings.

Outdoor markets, commercial stores, and eateries were also shuttered.

Uzbekistan, a country of 32 million people, has since March 24 been closed off for entry and exit for all modes of transportation.

Interregional transportation connections were suspended on March 27.

An order is in place for the wearing of protective masks in all public areas.

Iran

Iranian authorities said they have extended the temporary releases of thousands of prisoners in an attempt to curb the spread of the new coronavirus in the country’s overcrowded jails.

Authorities said they would also temporarily free another 15,000 prisoners, bringing the total number released to 100,000.

Iran is one of the countries worst hit by the virus, with a declared death toll of 2,640 as of March 29, although experts estimate the total to be much higher.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told state TV on March 29 that the release of 15,000 more inmates on temporary releases "had already started."

He said all 100,000 prisoners would be temporarily released until April 19.

On March 17, Iran said it had freed about 85,000 people from jail temporarily, including political prisoners.

Iran said it had 189,500 people in prison, according to a report submitted by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran to the Human Rights Council in January.

In recent days there have been several prison riots and mass escapes from prisons, as inmates try to avoid the coronavirus amid substandard prison conditions.

Meanwhile, President Hassan Rohani said "the new way of life" in Iran was likely to be prolonged by the coronavirus outbreak.

Rohani told a cabinet meeting on March 29, "We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date."

"The new way of life we have adopted" is to everyone's benefit, he said, adding that "these changes will likely have to stay in place for some time."

Tehran on March 25 decided to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.

Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home "as much as possible."

Schools and universities in some provinces were closed in late February and the closure was later extended to the whole country.

The reopening of schools following this year's Persian New Year holidays of March 19 to April 3 appears unlikely after Rohani's warning.

Iran has refused the United States' offer of humanitarian assistance, saying that Washington should lift sanctions if it wants to help Tehran fight the epidemic.

Iran has been under crippling U.S. sanctions in connection with its nuclear and missile program.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has locked down its fifth major city as part of measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus and will tap into its emergency fund to help alleviate the economic effects of the outbreak, authorities said on March 29.

Karaganda and several of its satellite towns were added to the list after seven cases of the disease were diagnosed in the city on March 29.

The Central Asian nation has confirmed 265 coronavirus cases and has already locked down its capital, Nur-Sultan, its biggest city, Almaty, as well as Shymkent, a large city in the south, and Aktau, a Caspian Sea port.

Among the satellites under lockdown is Temirtau, home to Kazakhstan's biggest steel mill owned by steel giant Arcelor Mittal.

Energy-rich Kazakhstan will tap its $60 billion National Fund for an additional 1.825 trillion tenge ($4.1 billion) this year, Information Minister Dauren Abayev said on March 29.

The money will help finance Kazakhstan's $10 billion stimulus package aimed at softening the blow from the coronavirus outbreak and the plunge in the price of oil, the Central Asian nation's main export.

Armenia

Armenia has reported two more deaths of patients who had been infected by the coronavirus, raising the Caucasus nation’s total to three fatalities.

Armenia's Health Ministry on March 29 said the total number of confirmed cases has reached 424.

On March 28, in a Facebook post, Health Minister Arsen Torosian wrote: “I regret to inform you that two deaths have occurred in [Yerevan’s] Nork infectious diseases hospital during the past hour.”

“The victims are a 55-year-old woman and a 73-year-old man who had the new coronavirus in combination with other chronic diseases,” he added.

On March 26, Armenia reported its first fatality among patients diagnosed with COVID-19 -- a 72-year-old woman who Armenia’s health authorities said had suffered from multiple medical conditions, including heart disease.

According to official data, 30 patients with COVID-19 have recovered in Armenia.

A state of emergency was declared on March 16, set to run until at least April 14.

On March 25, to further slow the spread of the highly contagious and potentially deadly virus, Armenia’s government introduced a one-week self-isolation regime throughout the country, restricting the movement of citizens.

Under the order, citizens can leave their homes only for permitted work and for a number of vital reasons, such as the purchase of food and medicine, or to exercise.

Torosian, the health minister, said on March 28 that he did not exclude that the self-isolation period could be extended beyond April 1.

Ukraine

Ukraine's Health Ministry on March 29 said that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 475, including 10 deaths.

Five people have recovered, Deputy Health Minister and Chief Medical Officer Viktor Lyashko told journalists on March 29.

Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has scheduled an extraordinary session for the afternoon of March 30 to adopt legislation that would protect the Eastern European country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, a second transport of medical equipment arrived in Kyiv from China on March 29.

The plane carrying 300,000 respirators, 35,000 protection suits, and 1.8 million surgical masks landed at Boryspil airport, said Kirill Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.

Romania

Romania on March 29 reported 308 more confirmed cases of infection with the new coronavirus and two more deaths, bringing the total number of infections to 1,760 and the fatalities to 40.

Romania's crisis group dealing with the outbreak said one of the two victims was a 27-year-old woman who was suffering from diabetes -- the youngest victim so far -- and the other was a 71-year-old man. Both fatalities were from northeastern Romania, where most cases have been identified.

As of March 29, a total of 21,460 Romanians have been tested.

Some 8,666 people are in quarantine, and 132,641 are in isolation at home under medical supervision.

A total of 12 Romanians died from the coronavirus abroad, eight of them in Italy. An estimated 4 million Romanians work in Italy and Spain, two of the world's worst-affected countries.

Romania declared a state of emergency on March 16 over the pandemic and went into a "total quarantine" on March 25, with army troops deployed to help enforce the order.

Pakistan

Pakistani authorities said that 121 more coronavirus cases were recorded in the country over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,526 cases, including 13 deaths.

Health Minister Zafar Mirza said on March 29 that 71 percent of coronavirus cases in Pakistan were imported, mainly pilgrims who returned from neighboring Iran, which has seen the Mideast's worst outbreak.

Cases in Pakistan have been gradually increasing despite the imposition of a lockdown in the country of 220 million.

Lawmakers and experts have voiced fears of an exponential increase in the coming days and urged the government to conduct more testing.

“The data coming in of patients across the country is not indicative of the true picture. The real number of patients is much higher,” Attaur Rehman, the head of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s task force on science and technology, told reporters.

The Health Ministry said that there were 13,324 suspected cases of the new coronavirus. More than 8,000 were in quarantine across the country.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, Interfax, dpa, AFP, hotnews.ro, and g4media.ro
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