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COVID-19: WHO Urges Turkmenistan To Activate 'Critical Public Health Measures'

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An empty railway station in the city of Bereket, Turkmenistan. The only country in Central Asia that has not officially registered any coronavirus cases within its borders, Turkmenistan has suspended the operation of passenger trains amid reports of COVID-19 infections.

The global death toll from the coronavirus is over 580,000, with more than 13.3 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.

Turkmenistan

The World Health Organization says it is "concerned" about reports of pneumonia in Turkmenistan, the only Central Asia nation that has not officially registered any coronavirus cases.

Speaking at a press conference in Ashgabat on July 14 at the end of a delayed, 10-day mission in the country, the mission’s leader, Catherine Smallwood, advised the government to activate “the critical public health measures in Turkmenistan, as if COVID-19 was circulating.”

Smallwood, WHO's senior emergency officer for Europe, credited the government's "recent activation of stronger measures" as part of efforts to prevent the potential spread of the coronavirus in the country.

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But she also said her team was “aware and concerned about reports of increased cases of acute respiratory disease or pneumonia of unknown cause.”

The coronavirus can cause severe illness, including pneumonia.

“Therefore, we recommend that surveillance and testing systems are scaled up, and that samples are sent to WHO reference laboratories for confirmed testing, as most countries have been doing in early stages of their outbreaks,” Smallwood said.

Smallwood said that “stopping this virus requires the participation of everyone,” insisting that “the community is an integral part of all response efforts.”

“Now is the time to build on the efforts taken so far, scale them up, and expand testing of acute respiratory infections and COVD-19 suspect cases; now is the time to further prepare all health facilities and health professionals for patients with COVID-19; now is the time to engage the community in the response; now is the time to expand significant multi-sector preparedness efforts to build a response,” she concluded.

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.

Officials in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic has been reluctant to mention coronavirus for months. Earlier this week, Turkmen health officials urged citizens to wear medical masks outdoors "to prevent lungs from dust."

Georgia

Georgian lawmakers have extended the amendments to the Law on Public Health until the end of the year, allowing the government to impose restrictions without declaring a state of emergency, amid opposition criticism.

A total of 79 lawmakers voted for prolonging the amendments that were set to expire on July 15, while one voted against it.

The chairman of the parliamentary committee for health care and social issues, Dimitri Khundadze, who presented the amendments at the session, explained the need for the decision to prolong the amendments by what he called a possibly “more devastating” second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in the South Caucasus nation.

Lawmakers from the opposition United National Movement did not attend the July 14 session when the vote took place.

According to the opposition parties and groups, by extending the amendments, the ruling Georgian Dream party is trying to use public health issue to gain control over upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

As of July 14, the number of registered coronavirus cases in Georgia was reported at 1,003, of which 873 patients recovered and 15 died.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen and Georgian services and civil.ge
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