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COVID-19: EU To Remove Serbia, Montenegro From Safe List; Red Crescent Warns Of 'Catastrophes' In Afghanistan Due To Pandemic

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A medical worker treats a patient suffering from COVID-19 at a hospital in Belgrade on July 14.

The global death toll from the coronavirus is over 574,000, with more than 13.1 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the respiratory illness.

Here's a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL's broadcast regions.

Serbia, Montenegro

The European Union will remove Serbia and Montenegro from a nonbinding safe list of countries whose citizens are allowed to enter the bloc for nonessential visits, according to several EU diplomats.

The officials told RFE/RL on July 14 that recent spikes of coronavirus cases in the two Balkan countries as the reason behind the decision, which is expected to take effect later this week.

More than 1,200 people have officially been infected by the coronavirus in Montenegro and 24 people have died from COVID-19 -- the illness caused by the virus.

Authorities in Serbia have reported nearly 19,000 cases, with 418 deaths.

After the exclusion of Serbia and Montenegro, 13 countries will remain on the EU list: Algeria, Australia, Canada, China, Georgia, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay.

On June 30, the EU announced that citizens from 15 “safe” countries would be allowed to enter the 27-member bloc and four other nations in Europe's visa-free Schengen travel zone for business or leisure.

The move is aimed at supporting the EU's tourism industry, which has been dramatically affected by travel restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Afghanistan

The Red Crescent Society says Afghanistan faces "catastrophes" as growing coronavirus cases are pushing hospitals and health clinics in the war-ravaged country "to the limit."

More than 34,700 people have officially been infected by the coronavirus in Afghanistan and over 1,000 people have died from COVID-19 -- the illness it causes.

"Afghanistan is on the edge of potential health, social and economic catastrophes caused by COVID-19 as the disease places a crippling burden on one of the 10 most fragile states in the world," the Afghan Red Crescent Society said in a statement on July 14.

It said the real toll of the pandemic on the Afghan population "is expected to be much higher and remains under-reported due to limited testing and weak health systems."

A street vendor sells facemasks amid a coronavirus pandemic in Kabul.
A street vendor sells facemasks amid a coronavirus pandemic in Kabul.

According to the World Health Organization, Afghanistan has one doctor for every 3,500 inhabitants -- less than a fifth of the global average.

Nilab Mobarez, secretary-general of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, said a "major shortage" of personal protective equipment and difficulties in accessing remote regions were hampering the organization’s coronavirus response.

But he said the Red Crescent Society was expanding mobile health teams and adding thousands of community volunteers to try detect and prevent the disease, which it said it expected to spread over the coming weeks.

"Afghanistan has been reaching a peak of infections and we fear this will continue over coming weeks. We are urgently scaling up our response with 39 mobile health teams, 31 immunization teams, 46 health clinics and more than 4,000 trained community volunteers to intensify case detection," Mobarez said.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan, the only country in Central Asia that has not officially registered any coronavirus cases within its borders, has suspended the operation of passenger trains amid reports of COVID-19 infections across the tightly controlled energy-rich nation.

Turkmen Railways issued a statement on its website that all trains will be suspended from July 16 to July 23 without giving any detailed explanation.

A day earlier Turkmen health officials urged citizens to wear medical masks outdoors "to prevent lungs from dust."

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Although Turkmenistan has not officially registered any coronavirus cases, RFE/RL correspondents reported that local hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients with pneumonia symptoms, some of whom, including medical personnel, have died.

In some parts of the country, so-called quarantine zones have been established, and some industrial facilities are being shut down, RFE/RL correspondents said.

On July 6, a long-delayed mission from the World Health Organization arrived in the country for a 10-day visit to assess the situation and work with Turkmen officials to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Kazakhstan

In neighboring Kazakhstan, Prime Minister Asqar Mamin, announced on July 14 that a second two-week coronavirus lockdown introduced on July 5 has been extended until August 2.

Education Minister Askhat Aimaghambetov told reporters in Nur-Sultan that schoolchildren in Kazakh towns and cities will start this academic year on September 1 online.

"Children in remote villages will be allowed to attend schools, while in towns and cities they will be taught remotely via the Internet and will gradually start attending schools depending on the situation," Aimaghambetov said.

Kazakh Defense Ministry officials told RFE/RL that Deputy Defense Minister Baqyt Qurmanbaev died on July 14 from COVID-19.

As of July 14, the number of coronavirus cases in Kazakhstan was officially reported as 61,755, including 375 deaths.

Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan

In Kyrgyzstan, health authorities said on July 14 that 11,538 coronavirus cases were officially registered in the country, of which 149 were fatal. The numbers do not include individuals who died of pneumonia with a negative COVID-19 test.

In Uzbekistan, the latest official data shows that the total registered number of coronavirus cases has reached 13,360, including 62 deaths.

In Tajikistan, as of July 13, the number of coronavirus cases was 6,595, including 55 deaths.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak, RFE/RL's Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek Services
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