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Small Private Shops Shut Down In Ashgabat As Turkmen Authorities Continue To Deny Presence Of COVID

Women wearing protective face masks walk along the street in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. (file photo)
Women wearing protective face masks walk along the street in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. (file photo)

ASHGABAT -- Small private shops in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, have been shut down apparently as a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus although authorities in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic continue to deny the presence of COVID-19 within the country's borders.

Owners of shops located on the ground levels of apartment blocks in Ashgabat told RFE/RL's correspondents that they were instructed to suspend operations on November 1, right after the lockdown that lasted for more than two months was extended at least until mid-November.

The authorities gave no explanation for the decision, but local officials said they were aimed at preventing the spread of "contagious diseases."

The closure affects many Ashgabat residents who have bought food from the small private shops as larger private groceries and marketplaces have been shut down since August.

People can currently buy food only at state-controlled, subsidized stores with a limited choice of products.

Furthermore, the operations of "marshrutka" minibuses that connected the outskirts of the capital with the city center have been suspended as well as part of the lockdown.

In the eastern region of Lebap, the lockdown was extended at least until December. Mass gatherings, including wedding parties, traditional burials, or other ceremonies also remain banned across the country.

The restrictions were imposed in August as the situation with coronavirus-like diseases abruptly worsened and the number of fatalities rose to unprecedentedly high levels.

However, many vendors and shop owners have continued to sell goods in the streets, running away when police arrive to detain violators of the lockdown regime.

RFE/RL correspondents reported earlier that some vendors were bribing police officers to continue to sell groceries and other goods in the streets. In some cases, people are also bribing local officials or police officers in order to hold private gatherings.

Turkmenistan's government still clings to its narrative that the country has no cases of the coronavirus -- even though practically no one believes the claim.

People in different parts of the country have told RFE/RL that the bodies of those who have died of COVID-19-like lung diseases were being delivered to their relatives in special plastic bags and the number of fresh graves across the country was increasing exponentially.

On November 1, the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) recommended that U.S. citizens should not to travel to Turkmenistan.

"Because the current situation in Turkmenistan is unknown, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants," the CDCP's recommendation said.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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