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Amid COVID-19 Surge, Kazakhstan Admits First Patients To Sports Arena Converted Into Hospital

Almaty Mayor Bakytzhan Sagintayev (left) inspects the construction of a temporary COVID-19 hospital in the Halyq Arena in Almaty. (file photo)

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Health authorities in Kazakhstan's largest city have admitted the first patients into a sports stadium that has been converted into a COVID-19 hospital as infection cases have multiplied, officials in Almaty said on March 31.

The transformed Halyq Arena has 1,000 beds. It is hoped it can alleviate overcrowding spurred by the recent surge in cases.

It opened as a 3,000-seat, double-domed arena for ice hockey and other events in 2016.

More than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases have been registered in the past two days in the city, which fell into "red zone" status of the national coronavirus task force.

Kazakhstan embarked last month on its vaccine campaign, using Russia's Sputnik V injection, with plans to introduce a nationally produced vaccine later.

By March 31, the number of registered coronavirus cases in Kazakhstan had reached 244,981, including 3,046 deaths, making it the worst-hit country in Central Asia, according to official figures.

But the statistics among some of its neighbors strain credulity, including Turkmenistan's claim that it has had zero COVID-19 cases even as suspicious deaths mount and local health facilities show signs of overcrowding in the tightly controlled country.

National vaccination programs have begun in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the past week, both with Chinese vaccines.

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