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COVID-19: Son Of Revered Afghan Resistance Hero Tests Positive; Bulgaria To Ease Travel With Greece, Serbia

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Ahmad Masud speaks at a press conference in Kabul on February 27.

The global death toll from the coronavirus is almost 319,000 with more than 4.8 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

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

Afghanistan

The son of Ahmad Shah Masud, the revered anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commander, says he and several members of his family have tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a May 19 post on Twitter and Facebook, Ahmad Masud said his COVID-19 symptoms were not "so serious," while warning that this did not mean that the virus should not be taken seriously.

Masud said he and several family members received the results of their coronavirus tests conducted a few days ago on May 19. He said they will go into quarantine for two weeks.

Masud, 31, called on his countrymen to follow health protocols and guidelines by the Health Ministry to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Masud, who was 12 when his father, known as the Lion of Panjshir, was assassinated by Al-Qaeda suicide bombers, said last year that he wanted to work to galvanize anti-Taliban groups.

"Let's defeat the coronavirus by working together and respecting guidelines," Masud wrote on Facebook on May 19.

The outbreak has so far killed 178 Afghans and infected over 7,600, according to official figures.

The actual numbers are likely to be significantly higher, as few tests are being carried out in the war-ravaged country.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Ferozuddin Feruz tested positive for the coronavirus. His condition was reported as "stable" by his spokesman, who said he self-isolated at home.

Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan will ramp up its industry on June 1 by allowing all factories to resume operations, after being shut for more than two months as authorities tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The government said in a statement on May 19 that while industry will resume, some restrictions will stay after June 1, namely the holding of cultural, sports, and scientific events will remain banned.

Additionally, operations at entertainment facilities, playgrounds, Internet clubs, computer game centers, and kindergartens will also remain suspended.

As of May 19, the number of coronavirus cases in Kyrgyzstan was reported as 1,243, including 14 deaths.

In neighboring Tajikistan, religious leaders announced on May 18 that traditional mass prayers in the country's mosques devoted to the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday this weekend will be canceled due to the pandemic.

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated for two or three days after the end of Ramadan -- the month during which Muslims do not eat and drink during the daytime.

Tajik health authorities said on May 18 that 1,729 coronavirus cases were recorded in the country, with 14 deaths.

In Kazakhstan, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev signed a decree on establishing a state medal, "Khalyq Alghysy" (People's Gratitude), that will be awarded to individuals for their contributions in the fight against the coronavirus.

Kazakh health authorities said on May 19 that there were 6,751 confirmed cases, including 35 deaths.

The latest figures in Uzbekistan, on May 19, were 2,802 positive tests, including 13 deaths.

Turkmenistan remains the only country in the region that has not officially registered a single coronavirus case yet.

Experts are skeptical of the claim that there are no cases, given the lack of transparency and independent media in the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been working on a possible visit to Turkmenistan to assess the situation on the ground of one of the world's most tightly run countries.

Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov has said his country is ready to host the WHO mission.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria says it has agreed with neighboring Greece and Serbia to ease travel restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus as of June 1.

"We have agreed with Greece from June 1 to allow travel without quarantine for people traveling for business, family, or humanitarian reasons," Prime Minister Boyko Borisov told reporters on May 19.

Speaking after taking part in a conference call with the Greek, Romanian, and Serbian leaders, Borisov said Sofia and Belgrade agreed similar arrangements.

He also expressed hope that Romania would soon join the initiative.

Bulgaria closed its borders to most travelers in mid-March as part of its lockdown measures. Diplomats, seasonal workers, and returning Bulgarian nationals have been admitted to the country but have to spend two weeks in quarantine.

Bulgaria eased its lockdown this week as the number of new infections decreased. The European Union member state reported 24 new cases on May 19, bringing the total to 2,259 cases, including 112 deaths.

From June 1, travelers will have to sign a declaration at the borders with Greece and Serbia that they do not have coronavirus symptoms, Borisov said.

"The goal is to create conditions for a restoration of travel and tourism between the citizens of the four countries without imposing a 14-day quarantine, while observing all hygienic requirements for security and deterrence of the coronavirus," the prime minister said.

Bulgaria is also holding talks with Austria and Germany to ease travel restrictions, he added.

Russia

The Kremlin said on May 19 that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has returned to work after recovering from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, as total infections in Russia approached 300,000.

A decree signed by President Vladimir Putin published on the Kremlin's website annulled his previous ruling appointing Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov as acting prime minister due to Mishustin’s illness.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin

Mishustin on April 30 announced he had tested positive for the virus.

He held several online meetings with his government while in the hospital.

Mishustin's reinstatement came after health officials reported 9,263 new infections in Russia over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 299,941, the second-highest in the world after the United States, as officials said new cases were dropping off.

Russia has reported 2,837 deaths, a number met with skepticism by critics who say fatalities are being underreported.

Other high-ranking Russian officials have tested positive for the virus, including Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova, and Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev.

Pakistan

Pakistan's Supreme Court has ordered the government to lift some of the remaining restrictions imposed on businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The court order affects shopping malls and businesses that have been closed on weekends.

The ruling said that as long as markets were open, there was no justification to shut shopping malls, and it found no "justifiable rational or reasonable" basis for businesses to be ordered to shut on weekends.

The court said the virus "apparently is not a pandemic in Pakistan" and questioned why fighting it was "swallowing so much money.”

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The ruling "puts more lives at risk" and "reflects a broader attempt by Pakistani federal authorities to trivialize the impact" of the outbreak, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Pakistan has reported nearly 45,000 COVID-19 cases, including more than 960 deaths, but HRW said the actual count was almost certainly much higher, given "minimal testing."

With the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holidays on the coming weekend, transport and retail shopping are expected to draw massive crowds.

Pakistani authorities allowed markets to reopen last week in a phased lifting of a countrywide lockdown, and they were immediately packed with customers, with few signs of social distancing or masks covering the nose and mouth.

Doctors have expressed concern about the reopening, saying the virus could quickly spread and overwhelm the health system.

The court's order, which is binding, was issued using its broad authority to rule without waiting for a case to come before it.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Bulgarian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek services, Reuters, and Dawn
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