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Kazakh health minister resigns amid coronavirus crisis

FILE PHOTO: A health worker takes a swab from a woman at a mobile testing station for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Almaty, Kazakhstan June 17, 2020. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev/File Photo

NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) - Kazakhstan’s health minister resigned on Thursday, saying COVID-19 complications prevented him from leading efforts against the coronavirus outbreak as its surges once more.

Yelzhan Birtanov, who had held the post since early 2017 and caught the virus himself in mid-June, wrote on social media that he had developed pneumonia which required additional treatment.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the former Soviet republic has nearly tripled this month to 32,000, with 136 deaths.

Kazakhstan, which ended a nationwide lockdown last month, has now again locked down several towns and introduced new measures such as closing shopping malls, markets and parks on weekends due to the rises in new cases. Hospitals are being filled to capacity.

A video posted online by the local government of the western Mangistau province showed patients laying on the floors of several rooms and a corridor. The province’s chief sanitary doctor on Thursday locked down the oil industry town of Zhanaozen and several nearby villages.


The healthcare chief of the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan reported a surge in pneumonia cases - which could indicate that many COVID-19 cases are going untested.

Doctors are finding some 600 people a day with pneumonia symptoms, Saule Kisikova, the Nur-Sultan healthcare department chief, told a briefing, up from about 80 a day before the coronavirus outbreak.

“Every day, 350 to 400 patients are hospitalised in the city with either COVID-19 or pneumonia,” she said, and the number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases averaged 150. “Within a week, the number of patients (in hospitals) has tripled,” she said.

Reporting by Tamara Vaal, writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Angus MacSwan