Tajikistan’s health minister has been fired amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the Central Asian former Soviet republic.
Nasim Olimzoda was sacked after the authorities spent weeks playing down the threat the country faced from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Tajikistan reported its first coronavirus cases in late April, one of the last countries in the world to confirm it had been affected by the pandemic.
President Emomali Rakhmon replaced Olimzoda with a career doctor, a statement from his office said on Tuesday.
The statement did not specify why Olimzoda had been dismissed, only saying he would be transferred to another position.
Tajikistan announced its first 15 cases in a single day on April 30. Since then, infections have rapidly grown, reaching 293 cases and five deaths as of Tuesday evening.
Local media have reported a number of cases among military figures, well-known politicians, businessmen and their families, which have not been confirmed by the authorities.
Tajikistan, an authoritarian state bordering China, began placing returning nationals and arriving foreigners under quarantine in early February and then closing its borders in March.
The country has also intermittently closed and reopened mosques, and its capital, Dushanbe, was one of the few places where professional football was still being played up until late April, when the local federation suspended the season until at least May 10.
However, the state of the outbreak in the country remained opaque.
In early April, the death of a high-ranking prosecutor from respiratory complications sparked speculation over the spread of the coronavirus, but the health ministry said at the time the official had died from swine flu and that testing had identified no cases.
Tajikistan’s confirmation of coronavirus cases left isolated Turkmenistan as the only country in the former Soviet bloc to not report any infections.