This country claims to have not recorded any COVID-19 cases

Key Points
  • The World Health Organisation has confirmed one country in the world reports being COVID-19 free.
  • It’s central Asian neighbours have recorded millions of cases.
  • Previously, the other country claiming to be COVID-free was North Korea.
One country maintains that it has not recorded a single COVID-19 case four years into the pandemic.
There have been at least 775 million infections worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But none, apparently, in Turkmenistan — a landlocked nation in Central Asia that borders, among other countries, Afghanistan and Iran.

That, however, is almost certainly not the reality in the former Soviet state, which is home to about 6 million people.

Why is the zero-case claim unreliable?

During the early months of the pandemic in 2020, Turkmenistan’s authoritarian government faced criticism after it banned WHO officials from entering the country.
That same year, its foreign ministry hit back at a statement from the US embassy in Turkmenistan that acknowledged there were no official reported COVID-19 cases, but said it was aware of reports of local citizens “with symptoms consistent” with the disease. It said the statement was “distorted”, “baseless”, and “fake”.
Comments like these have led some to accuse the government of .
In cases where Turkmenistan’s state-run media has reported on COVID-19, coverage has focused on events outside the country.
However, during the height of the pandemic, media outside the country reported hospitals were overwhelmed with patients with COVID-19 symptoms, .

Turkmenistan’s local vaccination rates are reportedly as high as 70 per cent, according to the World Health Organization. Source: AAP / TASS/Sipa USA

A World Health Organization spokesperson told SBS News in a statement that the global health body was yet to receive any COVID-19 case reports from Turkmenistan.

“We rely on health authorities to inform us of confirmed cases, as per their obligations under the International Health Regulations,” the statement read.
“To date, Turkmenistan has not reported any cases of COVID-19.”
The spokesperson said that Turkmenistan has “taken measures” to include COVID-19 vaccines into routine vaccination schedules and that, as of August 2023, the government had reported almost 16.8 million vaccine doses had been administered — covering an estimated 60 to 70 per cent of the total population.
Turkmenistan’s southern neighbour, Iran, has reported at least 7.6 million cases and 146,000 deaths, according to WHO’s March figures.

Its other neighbours, including Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan, have also recorded millions of cases.

North Korea changes position on COVID-19

It took North Korea, ruled by dictator Kim Jong-un, about two years to declare a COVID-19 case after the pandemic was declared in March, 2020.

The hermit kingdom’s claims of having no cases for a long period were questioned given that it neighbours China and South Korea, which had early outbreaks.

In May 2022, state-run media reported that an unspecified number of people in the capital, Pyongyang, , later announcing the country’s first confirmed deaths.

However, the total number of cases recorded there remains unlcear.

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