Tajikistan has announced the first deaths in the country from the coronavirus after weeks of denying it even had any cases.
Tajik state television reported on May 2 that two people infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, have died. No further information was given.
The Central Asian nation, run by authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon, admitted its first registered cases of COVID-19 on April 30 after more than 3 million people globally in nearly every country had been diagnosed with the virus.
Tajikistan now officially has 15 registered cases of the virus compared to its neighbor Uzbekistan, which has more than 2,000 cases. Uzbekistan has more than three times the population of Tajikistan.
Speculation has been rife for weeks that the Tajik government had been suppressing information about the existence of the coronavirus inside the country.
Tajikistan has registered a nearly 20 percent increase in pneumonia cases over the first four months of 2020 compared with the same period last year. Severe cases of coronavirus can lead to pneumonia.
Even as infections skyrocketed in other Central Asian nations over the past few months, Rahmon flouted warnings from international experts to order social-distancing restrictions or other measures to try and curtail any spread of the disease.
Tajikistan’s health-care system is underfunded and ill-equipped to deal with a widespread outbreak of cases, making the government’s lack of precautions in recent weeks a major risk for the country.
The government is now starting to take some actions to address the spread. State-run Khovar news agency said on April 30 that a new government task force has ordered all citizens to wear face coverings when outdoors.
The government last week closed schools for two weeks and suspended the national league soccer season over the coronavirus.
Representatives from the World Health Organization, which is helping lead the global fight against the spread of COVID-19, are expected to arrive in Tajikistan on May 2.
A second minister in the Russian government has tested positive for COVID-19 and is being treated in a hospital.
Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev said on May 1 that he has been hospitalized in Moscow and is receiving “treatment under the supervision of doctors,” according to TASS, quoting the ministry’s press office.
One of his deputies at the Construction and Housing Ministry, Dmitry Volkov, also tested positive for the coronavirus, the report said.
Deputy Minister Nikita Stasishin has been appointed acting minister of construction in Yakushev’s absence, TASS reported.
The announcement that Yakushev is being treated for COVID-19 comes a day after Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said he was entering self-isolation after testing positive. A spokesman said he would be kept under observation at a medical facility but did not give its name.
First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov is serving as acting prime minister while the 54-year-old Mishustin, who was named prime minister in January, recuperates.
The double blow to Russia’s cabinet comes as the country recorded a steady rise in cases despite lockdown measures in place since late March.
Russia registered nearly 10,000 new COVID-19 cases over the past day, a new record, as Moscow’s mayor said he may strengthen the lockdown.
Russia said COVID-19 cases rose by 9,623 on May 2, bringing the total number of people who have been infected in the country with the coronavirus to 124,054, the seventh-highest globally.
Another 57 people died from the disease over the past day, lifting the fatality tally to 1,222. More than 15,000 people in Russia have recovered from the virus.
More than half of the new cases are in Moscow, the nation’s capital, prompting Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to say he may further restrict the number of residents that can travel around the city.
While residents can leave their homes to go to the store, the pharmacy, throw out trash and walk their dogs, they need to receive a digital pass to use public or private transport.
Sobyanin said on May 2 that the city could reduce the number of digital passes issued should the coronavirus situation warrant such a move.
“If we see any threat, of course, we will not hesitate for a minute. We will come out with a proposal to tighten these measures,” he told state TV Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.