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WHO leaves Turkmenistan in COVID gray zone as neighbors face surge

Central Asian nation says it has no cases but is advised to act like it does

Women in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, on July 13: The country continues to insist it is coronavirus-free.   © Reuters

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Confusion reigns in Central Asia after the World Health Organization concluded a mission to Turkmenistan by recommending the government activate "measures as if COVID-19 were circulating" despite no cases being detected officially to date, while surging infections send neighboring countries back into lockdowns.

The long-delayed WHO mission, sent to assess how prepared Turkmenistan is to cope with COVID-19, arrived in the country on July 6. The leader, Dr. Catherine Smallwood, broadly endorsed the government's line that it is one of the last countries in the world that has not detected coronavirus cases. Yet, speaking in the capital Ashgabat at the end of the 10-day visit, she urged Turkmenistan to behave in public health terms as if the coronavirus were present; to fully investigate cases of acute respiratory infections; and to step up testing for suspected cases of COVID-19.

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