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District Governor In 'Coronavirus-Free' Turkmenistan Dies Of COVID-19, Family Says

People wearing protective face masks inside a bus in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan where the coronavirus officially does not exist.

The family of a Turkmen district governor says he has died of the coronavirus as the secretive Central Asian nation's authorities continue to deny the presence of the coronavirus in the country.

Toily Atajanov, the 40-year-old governor of Sakarchage district in the southeastern Mary Province died on October 4 from complications caused by COVID-19 and will be buried the next day, relatives told an RFE/RL correspondent.

The relatives said Atajanov was rushed to hospital several days ago with symptoms of the disease.

There was no official confirmation of Atajanov's death as the government continues to insist that the tightly controlled former Soviet republic has recorded no coronavirus cases within its borders, despite ample indications that the disease is devastating the country.

It was reported in July 2019 that a district governor in the eastern province of Lebap had died of COVID-19.

Despite ignoring the coronavirus, Turkmen authorities have taken unprecedented health measures in an apparent attempt to prevent the spread of the disease.

Last month, workers at funeral houses in the capital, Ashgabat, told RFE/RL that because of the rapid increase of the daily COVID-19 death toll, the price of coffins has dramatically increased.

Many of those who do not have enough money have to bury their loved ones in plastic bags, they said.

Local authorities across the country have been urging families and religious clerics to ask those who have lost someone to refrain from organizing post-burial gatherings and prayers in an apparent attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

In addition, all gatherings, including public events, weddings, and birthday parties have been banned across the country. No official reason was given for the ban.