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Virus? What Virus? Turkmenistan Seals Off Capital, Restricts Travel, But Doesn’t Mention COVID-19

Police stopping cars in Ashgabat on March 20
Police stopping cars in Ashgabat on March 20

Turkmenistan has sealed off its capital, Ashgabat, ostensibly due to the coronavirus without any public announcement by authorities or state media in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation.

RFE/RL correspondents in the country said late on March 19 that exceptions were being made for vehicles carrying food supplies and other cargo to the capital.

Traffic between the country’s provinces has been restricted as well, with checkpoints set up on highways, they added.

Many travelers to Ashgabat early on March 20 found out about the new restrictions only after arriving at the entrance to the city.

A copy of an official document obtained by RFE/RL also orders medical teams to check the body temperatures of passengers boarding intercity flights, trains, and buses.

The document orders police and doctors not to allow passengers who have “fever and symptoms” to board planes, trains, and buses and transfer them to nearby hospitals. Drivers and passengers of private vehicles face similar procedures at the checkpoints.

Turkmenistan hasn’t officially recorded any coronavirus infections and authorities have vehemently denied reports in early March that at least two people were quarantined with the infection.

The measures appeared to be linked to efforts to combat the spread of the virus as the outbreak hits Turkmenistan’s neighbors – Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan.

People who are released after being under quarantine for the “illness” must register with their local police office upon their return home, the government says.

Traveling between provinces is allowed only for emergency medical reasons, family weddings, funerals, and visiting sick relatives, the document said. However, Turkmen must carry a letter from local authorities confirming their reasons for traveling, the official document stipulates.

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

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