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Wednesday, September 23, 2020 6:05pm

Coronavirus hits Kazakh elite, capital city rings alarm

ALMATY (Reuters) – The speaker of Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament has self-isolated after contracting the new coronavirus, authorities said on Wednesday as they raised the alarm about a fresh surge in COVID-19 cases in the capital Nur-Sultan.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said the coronavirus situation was “challenging” because of widespread non-compliance with social distancing rules, but the government remained in control.

“Tomorrow the government will announce measures to stabilise the epidemiological situation, including broader testing,” he wrote on Twitter.

Last week, lower house speaker Nurlan Nigmatulin met Healthcare Minister Yelzhan Birtanov who then tested positive and is now in hospital being treated for pneumonia.

Unlike Birtanov, Nigmatulin’s case is asymptomatic, the parliament’s press office said. Tokayev’s spokesman also tested positive earlier this month.

Saule Kisikova, the head of Nur-Sultan’s healthcare department, said the situation had worsened in the capital over the last few weeks and that more hospitals were being converted into COVID-19 facilities.

But doctors and other medical personnel are already stretched in the city of 1.2 million, she said, with more than 150 fresh cases reported daily for the last three days.

“If city dwellers continue behaving carelessly, there will not be enough doctors and hospital beds for everyone,” she said.

“We must not repeat the Italian scenario with patients lying in corridors and a lack of doctors and ventilators because of (our) negligence,” she said, referring to the situation in northern Italy at the height of its COVID-19 pandemic.

Kazakhstan ended a two-month nationwide lockdown in May after its economy took a heavy hit and half of the population applied for financial aid from the state.

Over the past week, however, the authorities have once again tightened restrictions such as the working hours of shops and public transport in most of the provinces, citing accelerating spread rates of the virus.

The Central Asian country, which has a population of around 19 million, has so far confirmed more than 21,000 cases of the new coronavirus – including about 3,700 in the capital – along 8 deaths.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov with additional reporting by Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan; Editing by Gareth Jones/Mark Heinrich

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