Uzbekistan has ordered restrictions on entry into the capital Tashkent as coronavirus cases surge across Central Asian countries due to the highly contagious delta variant.
Uzbekistan on June 25 recorded 476 new cases, the highest figure this year and nearly four times more than daily counts last month.
The landlocked country of around 34 million people has confirmed 108,184 total cases including 725 fatalities, but the numbers are believed to be an undercount.
The Health Ministry said that in response to rising cases all “unnecessary” entry by bus and car into Tashkent will be restricted for two weeks beginning June 28.
The order provides exceptions, such as for residents of the capital and anyone flying through Tashkent International Airport.
Health authorities also recommend Islamic prayers be held outside, rather than inside mosques, and that anyone aged 65 or over perform religious services at home.
All entertainment facilities throughout the country will only be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will be allowed to function at no more than half capacity.
First identified in India, the delta variant is sweeping across the globe, raising alarm bells and prompting new restrictions in countries that had previously managed to control outbreaks.
Although experts say vaccines work against the delta variant, infections are rising even in countries with high vaccination rates due to the strain’s ability to spread quickly among the unvaccinated population.
The 70 million people spread across five Central Asian countries are particularly vulnerable to a new wave of infections due to the region's low vaccination rates.
Uzbekistan is estimated to have fully vaccinated 4 percent of its population, while in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan the rate is less than 1 percent.
Reclusive Turkmenistan claims to not have a single COVID-19 case since the pandemic, even as it implements epidemiological restrictions and RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports strained hospitals.
Energy-rich Kazakhstan, the wealthiest country in the region, has fully vaccinated about 9 percent of its population.
Kazakhstan warned this week that the delta variant was spreading in the capital, Nur-Sultan, leading to a 40 percent jump in infections from the previous week and calls for the government to prepare hospitals.
In a move meant to jumpstart the vaccination campaign, Kazakhstan's first president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, who enjoys almost limitless powers as elbasy -- leader of the nation -- was publicly vaccinated with a first dose of a locally produced Sputnik V vaccine.
Nazarbaev used the occasion to urge Kazakhs to get vaccinated in large numbers.
Neighboring Kyrgyzstan this month reported daily new cases at levels not seen for almost a year.
Tajikistan admitted this week having COVID-19 cases for the first time since January, with authorities blaming the "carelessness" of citizens for the disease. Despite the government’s previous denials, there are widespread reports of infections in the authoritarian country.