Crossroads Asia | Society | Central Asia

Wuhan Coronavirus: What About Central Asia?

There are, so far, no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Central Asia.

Catherine Putz
This article is free

The Diplomat has removed paywall restrictions on our coverage of the COVID–19 crisis.

Wuhan Coronavirus: What About Central Asia?
Credit: Wikimedia

As of writing, there have been no confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Central Asia. But like governments around the world, especially those bordering China and those with significant economic and travel ties to the country, Central Asia’s capitals have taken various precautionary measures.

As of January 28, there have been 4,673 confirmed cases of the virus around the world. The vast majority, 4,473, and the only deaths, 107, have occurred in China. According to a live map created by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, which visualizes reports about the outbreak using data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization, China’s CDC, and other sources, there have also been confirmed cases in Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Singapore, Japan, Australia, the United States, Malaysia, South Korea, France, Vietnam, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

So far, there have been no confirmed cases in Central Asia, but as Chris Rickleton highlighted for Eurasianet, the rumor mill has been operating full steam.

On Tuesday, Kazakhstan announced restrictions on Chinese citizens obtaining visas. Kazakhstan’s deputy foreign minister, Shukhrat Nuryshev, told reporters that the state would stop issuing electronic visas to Chinese citizens on arrival and would require medical certificates for those looking to get visas. 

Nuryshev also said there were no plans to close the border with China completely, but other reports stated that the Kazakh side of the Khorgos free trade zone will be shut down until at least February 15. Almaty region’s six border checkpoints have been equipped with thermal scanners to screen those crossing. 

Nuryshev said Nur-Sultan had requested that Beijing allow 98 Kazakh students in Wuhan to leave. Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, has been on lockdown since January 23. Various other countries have made plans to evacuate their citizens; it’s not clear what Kazakhstan’s plan would be.

Health Minister Yelzhan Birtanov told reporters that of the Kazakh citizens who have returned from China since the outbreak, four have been hospitalized with suspected infections but no cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed yet.

Kyrgyzstan, which also shares a border with China, has taken measures to screen people returning from China and the Health Ministry set up a hotline for citizens to get more information. The Foreign Ministry recommended that Kyrgyz not travel to China and provided a bevy of phone numbers, for hotlines and consuls in China, should Kyrgyz run into trouble. According to official figures, there are 14 Kyrgyz students in Wuhan, and 4,600 elsewhere in China. On Tuesday, RFE/RL reported that six Kyrgyz students attending Xinjiang University in Urumqi arrived in Bishkek and are being kept in quarantine. 

The Kyrgyz-Chinese border, according to reports in 24.kg, has been temporarily closed from January 24 to January 30. The closing, however, isn’t related to the coronavirus, but is instead an annual closure, at Beijing’s behest, during the Chinese New Year. (For example, here is a report on the 2018 closure).

Tajikistan, the only other Central Asian state sharing a border with China, refuted rumors that the virus had spread to the country. Uzbekistan has introduced screening measures, especially for flights from China. There are more than 30 Uzbek students in Wuhan, according to a Kun.uz report; Uzbek officials have said they are working on bringing the students back.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the symptoms of the virus are mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. It’s not clear exactly how contagious the virus is, though person-to-person transmission has been confirmed in China. Other outbreaks within the coronavirus family include SARS (emerging in Guangdong, China in 2002-2003) and MERS (emerging in Saudi Arabia in 2012).