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Hot With A Chance Of COVID: Tajik Weather Forecast Irks Turkmenistan

Turkmen authorities have ordered people to stay home during one of the most important Islamic holidays "to avoid the dangerous effects of dust."

A weather forecast in Tajikistan by the Moscow-based Mir TV channel warning of a coming heatwave has irked Ashgabat because it mentions Turkmenistan, which feels it implied the coronavirus would be carried into its neighbor by the weather system.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry said in a statement on July 28 that it had "deep concerns" over the weather forecast, saying it was "politically incorrect" to mention Turkmenistan, the only country in Central Asia that has not officially registered a single coronavirus case within its borders, at a time of heightened fears over how the coronavirus and other infections spread by air.

"We believe that any mention of the specific name of a country in the context of the movement of air masses from or through its territory may raise suspicions of the transfer of dangerous infections to other countries," the Foreign Ministry said.

"Therefore, the Turkmen side, noting the political shortsightedness of the correspondent who prepared and disseminated the information in question, stresses that violations of the norms of political ethics established in international affairs are unacceptable," it added.

Neither Tajik officials, nor Mir TV, have commented on the Turkmen statement.

Although Turkmenistan has not officially registered any coronavirus cases, RFE/RL correspondents have 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.

In recent days, the Turkmen authorities ordered people to stay home during one of the most important Islamic holidays, Eid al-Adha, which is marked on August 1-2 this year, "to avoid the dangerous effects of dust."

Earlier this month, the Health Ministry urged people to wear medical masks outdoors and maintain social distance due to the "high dust content in the air."

In the local media, "harmful dust" has turned into a euphemism for COVID-19.

The leader of a World Health Organization mission, Catherine Smallwood, told a press conference in Ashgabat on July 15 that the mission had concerns about reports of pneumonia in the tightly controlled energy-rich country.

Smallwood advised the Turkmen government to activate "critical public-health measures in Turkmenistan, as if COVID-19 was circulating."

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