Kazakhstan detects Delta variant as Central Asia braces for third COVID-19 wave

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Kazakhstan warned on Tuesday that the more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus had reached its capital as other Central Asian countries saw fresh spikes in COVID-19 cases.

The number of fresh cases in Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan, jumped 40 percent last week compared to the previous week, healthcare minister Alexei Tsoi told a government meeting on Tuesday.

Tsoi said tests had shown that the Delta variant of COVID-19, first detected in India, was present in the city and urged provincial governments to prepare for a spike in cases requiring hospitalization and lung ventilation.

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Neighboring Kyrgyzstan has this month reported daily fresh cases at levels not seen for almost a year, prompting the authorities to recommend that half of all employees in the capital switch to working from home.

Uzbekistan, which also saw daily cases climb this month, said on Tuesday it was closing its border with neighbor Afghanistan due to the deteriorating COVID-19 situation there.

Tajikistan said this week it registered its first COVID-19 cases since January. Blaming the population’s “nonchalance”, the government said it would strictly enforce social distancing and tighten controls over flight arrivals.

The region, with a total population of 70 million, is particularly vulnerable to a new wave of infections due to its low vaccination rates. Kazakhstan, the wealthiest country in Central Asia, reported on Tuesday it has fully vaccinated about nine percent of its population.

Uzbekistan is estimated to have fully vaccinated 3-4 percent of its population, while in impoverished Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the rate is less than one percent.

A Lancet article cited by nearly all Kyrgyz news websites this month predicts Kyrgyzstan will have one of the world’s highest mortality rates - more than 256 per 100,000 - this summer.

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