Or at least, that’s what the central Asian country’s secretive, authoritarian government claims.
But independent organizations and journalists and activists outside Turkmenistan say there’s evidence the country is battling a third wave which is overwhelming hospitals and killing dozens of people — and warn the President is playing down the threat of the deadly virus in a bid to maintain his public image.
Ruslan Turkmen, an exile from Turkmenistan and editor of the Netherlands-based independent news organization Turkmen News, said he has personally assembled the names of more than 60 people
who he claimed have died of Covid-19 inside the country, including teachers, artists and doctors.
Turkmen said he has verified all the recorded deaths with health records and X-rays, revealing severe lung damage and medical treatment consistent with coronavirus victims.
“Instead of accepting it and cooperating with the international community, Turkmenistan decided to stick its head in the sand,” said Turkmen.
The Turkmenistan government did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
How it unfolded
As Covid-19 spread around the world at the start of 2020, Turkmenistan insisted it had no cases, even as bordering countries reported skyrocketing outbreaks.
Iran, with which Turkmenistan shares a long land border, has reported one of the world’s largest Covid-19 outbreaks with nearly 5.5 million total cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“You look at what’s happening at other countries in the region and how different could Turkmenistan possibly be?” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
According to the websites of the British
foreign ministries, all flights into Turkmenistan are currently suspended and only Turkmen citizens are allowed to enter the country.
Turkmen said his sources in Turkmenistan began contacting him about cases in around May 2020 — about the same time Covid-19 was spreading around the world
. He said the first messages he received talked about a “weird lung disease, flu-like” which was affecting many people.
“It was at least 40 degrees Celsius outside (104 degrees Fahrenheit) — not a usual flu season,” he said.
In June 2020, the US embassy in the capital, Ashgabat, issued a heath alert
warning of “reports of local citizens with symptoms consisted with Covid-19 undergoing Covid-19 testing,” and being placed in quarantine for up to 14 days.
The Turkmenistan government immediately called the statement “fake news
A WHO mission
to Turkmenistan in July 2020 did not confirm any coronavirus infections inside the country but did say it was concerned about “increased numbers of cases of acute respiratory infection and pneumonia.”
One WHO official said Turkmenistan should act “as if Covid-19
By then, the situation was out of control, according to Turkmen. The government advised citizens to take bizarre public health measures, such as eating a particular type of spicy soup.
In January this year, Turkmenistan announced it had approved Russia’s Sputnik V
coronavirus vaccine for use in the country. Then in June, the World Bank agreed to lend $20 million