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COVID-19: Uzbekistan Bans Bicycles Except For 'Essential' Work; Serbia Donates Test Kits To Kosovo


The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 145,000 with over 2.1 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.

Central Asia

Uzbek authorities have temporarily banned the use of bicycles in the country except as transportation for workers between their jobs and their homes.

Interior Ministry spokesman Shohrukh Ghiyosov told reporters on April 17 that individuals traveling to their jobs on bicycles must carry three documents -- their Uzbek identification card, a document confirming their employment, and a letter from their employer confirming that their presence at work during the coronavirus lockdown is essential.

Uzbek health authorities said early on April 17 that the number of coronavirus infections in the country was 1,390, with four deaths.

In neighboring Tajikistan, religious leaders announced on April 17 that no daily "tarawih" prayers will be performed in mosques during the month of Ramadan, which starts next week.

Religious leaders in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan announced similar fatwas days earlier.

Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have not officially declared any coronavirus cases. But experts are skeptical of the claims, given the lack of transparency within those governments and a lack of independent media.

In Kazakhstan, health officials said on April 17 that 1,498 people had tested positive for coronavirus and that 17 had died. Those infected in Kazakhstan include 423 medical personnel.

In Kyrgyzstan, the latest coronavirus tally on April 17 was 489 infections, including five deaths.

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The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) executive board has approved $1.39 billion in emergency financing to Pakistan to help it address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The funds will help Pakistan meet the "urgent balance-of-payment needs" stemming from the outbreak, the IMF said in a news release.

Geoffrey Okamoto, first deputy managing director, said the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is having a significant impact on the Pakistani economy.

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The urgent balance-of-payments needs have been created by domestic containment measures coupled with the global economic downturn, Okamoto said. These are “severely affecting growth and straining external financing,” he said.

The funds will help Pakistan deal with a decline in international reserves and allow it to fund temporary spending aimed at containing the pandemic and mitigating its economic impact, the IMF said.

“With the near-term outlook deteriorating sharply, the authorities have swiftly put in place measures to contain the impact of the shock and support economic activity,” the IMF said. “Crucially, health spending has been increased and social support strengthened.”

Pakistan's government on April 14 announced an extension of the nationwide shutdown and restrictions on public gatherings for another two weeks. Educational institutions will also remain shut during that period.

The government has said, however, that a number of industries would be allowed to operate if they adhere to safety guidelines. Among them is the construction industry.

Pakistan has already been in lockdown for three weeks, prompting warnings that a prolonged economic halt could push half of the country’s population into poverty.

Pakistan has reported about 7,000 coronavirus cases and 128 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Health officials in Belgrade and Pristina have confirmed that Serbia has delivered 1,000 coronavirus test kits to Kosovo.

A Serbian health official described the April 17 delivery as a sign of "solidarity" -- despite trade frictions, a recent history of conflict, and Belgrade's refusal to recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.

A Serbian official familiar with the test-kit delivery said Belgrade dispatched the kits without any political conditions. He said the reason for the delivery was "solely the desire to help overcome this virus problem."

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the coronavirus pandemic had been "a stark reminder that we can only resolve many problems together."

Meanwhile, Kosovar Health Ministry spokesman Faik Hoti confirmed that Serbia had made the donation.

Hoti said on Facebook that the donation would be added to about 3,100 test kits in stock.

Pristina is also expected to soon announce the winner of a tender for 13,000 more test kits, Hoti said.

Kosovo has reported 449 infections, including of 17 health workers, and 11 deaths.

Serbia has so far reported 5,790 confirmed cases and 110 deaths from the coronavirus infection.


Bulgaria has banned traffic entering and leaving Sofia starting on April 17 and lasting through the Orthodox Easter holiday in a move to strengthen measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The ban is necessary because of a “massive departure” of Bulgarians from the capital in cars earlier this week ahead of the four-day holiday weekend, according to Interior Minister Mladen Marinov.

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General Ventsislav Mutafchiiski, the chief of Bulgaria's National Operations Headquarters, said the departures were very worrying because Sofia is the center of the outbreak in the country and the movement will lead to a worsening of the coronavirus spread.

Mutafchiiski did not rule out even stricter measures to crack down on the movements of some Bulgarians.

The order was issued by Health Minister Kiril Ananiev late on April 16 at an extraordinary briefing of the Council of Ministers.

Ananiev said exceptions are allowed for police cars, ambulances, delivery trucks, and telecommunications company vehicles. Traffic inside the city will not be restricted.

The number of coronavirus infections in Bulgaria jumped to 800 on April 16, with 38 deaths recorded in the country, according to a database maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

Around 4,000 churches in Bulgaria will remain open during the Orthodox Easter weekend, but the parishioners have been asked not to go out and instead to pray at home because of the infection risk.

Supermarkets, pharmacies, and petrol stations are the only businesses open in Bulgaria. The country’s state of emergency has been extended until May 13.

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