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In 'COVID-Free' Turkmenistan, Britain's (Singing) Ambassador Now Has COVID

Britain's ambassador to Turkmenistan, Hugh Philpott, sings in the Turkmen language.

Britain's ambassador to Turkmenistan, where an authoritarian post-Soviet government has never officially registered a single coronavirus infection, has said he "need[s] to recuperate" from COVID-19.

British Ambassador to Turkmenistan Hugh Philpott tweeted the news of his apparent infection on December 16 while talking about a quirky YouTube video in which he performs a song in Turkmen in front of a green-screen backdrop of that Central Asian country's natural beauty.

On YouTube, Philpott describes himself as "an amateur singer and diplomat" and says the "Orient TM news agency in Ashgabat invited me to record this song." He says the agency created the video backdrop to his performance of the song Turkmen Steppe.

He thanks those who shared the video and suggests it was "from my recuperation."

Later, he tweeted in reply to a former British ambassador, Robin Ord-Smith, "I need to recuperate from covid."

It is not clear where or when Philpott, who has served as the U.K.'s ambassador to Ashgabat since 2018, was exposed to the coronavirus.

He did not initially respond to a tweet by an RFE/RL journalist asking him for details.

Turkmenistan is one of 15 states or territories -- nearly all of them remote Pacific islands -- that have not reported a single coronavirus infection to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In August, the WHO expressed concern over an increase in atypical pneumonia cases in Turkmenistan and unsuccessfully urged Ashgabat to allow it to organize independent coronavirus tests in the country.

Turkmen officials have clung to their zero-infections statistics despite signs of outbreaks in prisons, schools, and the general population as hospitals get increasingly crowded, as well as large numbers of cases in neighboring countries.

Many Turkmen citizens report staying home despite illness, fearing that a trip to the doctor could infect them as hospitals quietly strain under high numbers of patients reporting COVID-19-like symptoms.

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.