ASHGABAT -- Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov has been reportedly hospitalized with COVID-19 even as authorities continue to deny the presence of the coronavirus within the country's borders.
Two separate sources close to the government told RFE/RL on September 8 that the 61-year-old Meredov has not been seen in public since August 20 and is currently being treated for coronavirus in a newly built hospital in the village of Yzgant, in the south-central region of Ahal.
Media reports say that another sign of Meredov's illness is that Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's upcoming visit to Uzbekistan is being prepared by Deputy Prime Minister Esenmurad Orazgeldyiev and not Meredov, who is also a deputy prime minister and normally is responsible for the organization of the president’s foreign trips.
Turkmenistan has not reported officially a single coronavirus infection since the pandemic started in March last year and the government remains steadfast in its zero-infections claim despite signs of outbreaks across the country such as increasingly overcrowded hospitals and changes to the academic year that have extended the summer holiday.
RFE/RL's correspondents have reported from across the country that number of people who were killed by COVID-19 has increased dramatically and many have to bury their loved ones in plastic bags as they cannot afford burial expenditures.
The bodies of victims of lung ailments are being delivered to relatives in special plastic bags, and there have been an unusually high number of fresh graves across the country, RFE/RL's correspondents have reported.