Tajikistan: COVID strikes again, despite official denials

The government appears to be taking active measures to cover up the new outbreak.

Kamila Ibragimova

Another wave of coronavirus infections is washing through Tajikistan, despite insistence from the government that they have achieved victory in keeping the pandemic at bay.

A doctor at a hospital in the capital, Dushanbe, told Eurasianet on condition of anonymity that two patients with suspected COVID-19 diagnoses have been admitted daily over the past week.

“It makes no sense to send patient tests to the laboratory, the results return negative all the same,” the doctor said.

Medics are only making notes of patients displaying signs of ground-glass opacity in their lungs after an MRI scan, which can be read as an indication of coronavirus infection, the source said.

A similar story has come out of the northern Sughd region. Abumavlon Abdullozoda, the head physician at Sughd regional hospital, said on May 19 that they had returned two positive PCR-based tests applied to a Yemeni national. The man, his family and the staff of the hotel where he had been living were placed in quarantine.

The Health Ministry did not include this positive result in its data on the COVID-19 situation, however. Officials said the patient’s test was forwarded to Dushanbe and that it returned a negative result.

RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radioi Ozodi, on May 25 reported that Abdullozoda had been fired on the orders of the Health Ministry.

Independent newspaper Asia-Plus also reported last week that 15 people had been hospitalized and diagnosed with pneumonia at a hospital in the northern city of Khujand. Doctors have insisted this is a seasonal wave of illnesses unrelated to COVID-19.

Since the start of the year, the authorities in Tajikistan have reported almost no COVID-19 cases. This stark turnaround occurred days after President Emomali Rahmon delivered a speech preemptively declaring victory over the outbreak.

The stance of adopting blanket denials mirrors the approach adopted by the Tajik authorities around the start of the global pandemic in the spring of 2020. The government only changed its tune in late April, on the eve of a visit of an expert mission organized by the World Health Organization.

As of today, the authorities have reported a total of around 13,300 coronavirus infections leading to 90 fatalities. Excess mortality data hints a graver situation, however. According to the state statistics agency, 41,743 people died in 2020. That is fully 8,649 people more than the previous year.

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