Turkmenistan's dictator, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, is mostly known in the west for being lambasted on Last Week Tonight by John Oliver. He also enjoyed brief internet fame for rapping about the glories of sports and Turkmenistan with his grandson. But now he may have a more enduring legacy: remembered as the nation leader who banned coronavirus. Literally.
The Turkmen president has reacted to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic by banishing the word "coronavirus," according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The word has disappeared from viral disease brochures given to schools, hospitals and workplaces by the country's Ministry of Health, reports the Turkmenistan Chronicle, which RSF describes as "one of the few sources of independent information in a country where the government keeps tight control on the media."
"They take away people for any talk about the coronavirus. Special people listen to the conversations in lines, at bus stops, on buses," a journalist at Radio Azatlyk, a station that circumvents press restrictions in the country to broadcast reports on Turkmen and Russian, said of life in the capital city of Ashgabat.
The measures seem aimed at substantiating the Turkmenistan government's claim, which sources like the Turkmenistan Chronicle disputes, that the country has no cases of coronavirus. Turkmenistan, with a population of just under 6 million, neighbors Iran, a country with more than 44,000 reported COVID-19 cases.
Despite reportedly banishing the word coronavirus, Turkmenistan has pursued more traditional means of tackling COVID-19's spread. It banned restaurants, gyms and sport events last week, according to the Turkmenistan Chronicle, and school holidays have been extended by two weeks.
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