November 24, 2020

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Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov Photograph: Igor Sasin/AFP via Getty Images

Turkmenistan’s long-time leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has insisted his reclusive country had no coronavirus cases, state media reported on Saturday, even as he opened a new hospital for infectious diseases, Agence France-Presse reports.

Berdymukhamedov hailed the country’s “big achievement” in avoiding the pandemic, in comments reported by the state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan.

“As a result of the preventive measures taken, no cases of coronavirus infection have been registered in the country to date,” Berdymukhamedov said.

Hardline Turkmenistan and North Korea are among fewer than a dozen countries yet to declare a single coronavirus case. The other countries are Pacific island nations.

The Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands and Vanuatu all declared their first cases in recent weeks but have avoided community transmission.

Berdymukhamedov’s virus-free claim is his first since a visit in July by a World Health Organization delegation prompted the government to implement a national lockdown.

Dissident-led media based in Europe have reported an explosion of coronavirus cases, but their websites are banned in the country, where there is no free press or political opposition.

The WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, recommended during her visit that the government adopt measures “as if Covid-19 were already circulating”, but stopped short of publicly doubting the government’s virus-free boast.

The hospital opened by Berdymukhamedov has a 200-bed capacity and can treat “viral hepatitis, infectious diseases of the upper respiratory tract … and diseases transmitted by airborne droplets,” Neutral Turkmenistan reported.

The hospital’s equipment includes mechanical ventilators manufactured by the Swedish medical technology company group Getinge, according to the report.