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.
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.
“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.
“It was at least 40 degrees Celsius outside (104 degrees Fahrenheit) — not a usual flu season,” he said.
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.
As recently as Tuesday, President Berdymukhamedov said the efforts of the global community in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic were “insufficient,” although he did not mention the situation inside his own country.
“The pandemic has exposed serious systemic failings in the international response to this challenge,” he said.
‘Turkmenistan is burning’
Despite Berdymukhamedov’s claims that his country his Covid-free, the reality inside Turkmenistan is starkly different, according to independent journalists and activists.
Diana Serebryannik, director of Europe-based exiles group Rights and Freedoms of Turkmenistan Citizens, said her organization had heard from contacts in the country that hospitals there are currently struggling to deal with the influx of cases.
Serebryannik said Turkmen doctors from her organization who were now living overseas were in touch with their former colleagues in the country, allowing them to find out the real situation and provide advice.
She said doctors inside Turkmenistan had told her both oxygen and ventilators were hard to come by in the country, treatment was expensive and deaths from the virus could be in the thousands.
“Turkmenistan is burning, it’s burning with Covid … Sometimes they do not even accept patients to the hospital, they just send them home,” she said.
According to Serebryannik, the official cause of death in these cases is not listed as Covid-19 or even pneumonia — instead medical certificates record a separate condition, such as a heart attack, she said.
The journal of Asian Affairs said Uchkun died on July 7. His official cause of death was heart failure.
Undermining the rosy picture
Multiple authoritarian governments around the world have announced their Covid-19 outbreaks and received international assistance, including China, the earliest country affected.
So why is Turkmenistan so insistent that it has still not seen a single case?
Both Turkmen and Serebryannik said it was down to President Berdymukhamedov who, as a dentist by profession and former health minister, had placed great emphasis on effectively governing the well-being of his people — at least in principle.
Serebryannik said Berdymukhamedov, 64, wanted to appear like a savior to the country, and an impressive world leader, by keeping Covid-19 out.
“Turkmenistan is a country where everything in the garden looks rosy … you have those marble, state of the art (health facilities) equipped with German, French, Japanese, whatever, equipment,” journalist Turkmen said.
Admitting the presence of a deadly virus would undermine the idealized image the President has created and leave Berdymukhamedov open to criticism — and potentially to being held to account.
“It would be someone’s failure, someone would have to bear responsibility for that and who has the ultimate word for that? The President,” Turkmen said.
There has been no indication yet that Turkmenistan is preparing to reverse its position and admit to having Covid-19 cases inside the country, but Serebryannik said she believed the government would have to eventually.
She said there had just been “too much death.”
Human Rights Watch’s Denber said international organizations interacting with Turkmenistan, including WHO, had a duty to be honest with the world about the situation inside the country.
“At a certain point you have to say at what cost are you protecting that presence (in the country)? Are the measures you’re taking to protect your relationship … undermining your core mission?” she said.
Denber said in a global pandemic, with many outbreaks linked across international borders, nations had an obligation to provide accurate testing and correct public information.
“We’re all interconnected,” she said. “When one of us fails, we all fail.”
This country claims it hasn’t had a single Covid-19 case. Activists say that’s a lie