Turkmenistan Turns Foreigners Away Over Coronavirus

Turkmenistan is taking tough measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including refusing entry to citizens of countries where cases of COVID-19 have been reported.

No cases of the virus have been officially declared in Turkmenistan, though the country shares a border with Iran, where the coronavirus outbreak has claimed over 140 lives. A reliable source told turkmen.news in February that a student had died of coronavirus in Lebap region. He was being kept in quarantine at a camp for Turkmen citizens evacuated from China.

Three foreign citizens, two of them diplomats from an Arab country, were refused entry to Turkmenistan on March 6 when they arrived on a flight from the Kazakh city of Almaty. The flight landed in Turkmenabat in eastern Turkmenistan, rather than the capital Ashgabat, in accordance with the new regulations.

The three travellers, who all had permission to visit Turkmenistan, were taken to Ashgabat and put on a Turkmenistan Airlines flight to Istanbul. They were given no coherent explanations for their deportation, and were told only that measures were being taken to prevent the coronavirus reaching Turkmenistan. The two diplomats were to have been met at the airport by staff from the embassy in Ashgabat, but they did not pass through the immigration checks.

According to a report from the French embassy in Ashgabat, since February 23 Turkmenistan has been refusing entry to citizens of countries with cases of the coronavirus. There are no exceptions, not even for the holders of valid visas.

On March 5, the Foreign Ministry briefed foreign diplomats and representatives of international organizations on steps taken by the Turkmen authorities to prevent the virus reaching the country. They include the compulsory provision of saliva by incoming passengers. It takes six hours for the results of the tests to come through, during which time the passengers have to wait at the airport terminal.

  • In late January Turkmenistan Airlines stopped flights to Beijing and Bangkok. Turkmen students studying at Chinese universities were brought home from China on several charter flights. They were all put in quarantine in a tent camp in Turkmenabat.
  • Flights are still operating to Abu Dhabi, Ankara, Dubai and Istanbul, but the planes carry only foreigners from Ashgabat, as Turkmen citizens are banned from flying to Turkey and the UAE. The same measures were later applied to flights to Russia.
  • All Turkmenistan Airlines’ international flights land at Turkmenabat instead of Ashgabat, including the March 6 flight from Birmingham (Great Britain).
  • Foreign carriers told Khronika Turkmenistana that they have suspended flights to Ashgabat. The airlines include Belavia (Belarus), FlyDubai (UAE) and S7 (Russia). Turkmen.news reported earlier that from March 4 Turkish Airlines would not fly to Turkmenistan, but it has since been announced that they will fly to Turkmenabat.
  • At the end of January Turkmenabat was declared a quarantine zone and the border with Uzbekistan was closed. The authorities went on to close checkpoints on the borders with Iran and Afghanistan and to stop passengers arriving via ferry across the Caspian Sea.

The closure of the Iranian border will slash imports to Turkmenistan. At this time of year almost 50% of the foodstuffs on the Turkmen market are imported from or via Iran, according to calculations by Turkmen.news’ economic correspondent in Ashgabat. Since the border closure, prices for fresh fruit and vegetables have shot up on Turkmenistan’s markets. Meanwhile, Turkish media reported on March 4 that some 800 Turkish long-haul trucks were stuck at the Iranian border with Turkmenistan.

According to the latest figures, more than 100,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus worldwide, of whom over 3,400 have died.