June 15, 2020 / 1:19 PM / 2 months ago

Kazakhstan tightens restrictions in biggest city on fears of coronavirus second wave

FILE PHOTO: A police officer wearing a protective mask directs local residents as they walk through a checkpoint, set up to lock down the city to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the outskirts of Almaty, Kazakhstan May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev

ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakhstan ordered some entertainment venues in its biggest city Almaty to close on Monday and shopping malls, restaurants and government offices there to work shorter hours, following a spike in coronavirus cases since a lockdown was eased.

The Central Asian nation has already tightened restrictions in three provinces this month, after ending a nationwide state of emergency in mid-May, after fresh cases of COVID-19 raised fears of a second wave of the virus.

Under the tighter restrictions announced on Monday, markets in Almaty must close at 1600 on weekdays, while restaurants must shut by 2200 on all days.

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic of 19 million people bordering China and Russia, has said its first coronavirus cases came from Europe. It has reported almost 20,000 cases of COVID-19 with 77 deaths, up from around 5,200 cases as of May 11 when it began gradually lifting lockdowns.

Kazakhstan’s healthcare minister, Yelzhan Birtanov, said at the weekend that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was receiving treatment. Prime Minister Askar Mamin, who had recently travelled with Birtanov, has since tested negative for the disease but chose to self-isolate, his office said.

Almaty’s chief sanitary doctor also on Monday ordered banks and government institutions to have at least half of their staff work from home. On Sunday, city authorities ordered a sweets factory and a popular outdoor food market in Almaty to temporarily close due to confirmed COVID-19 cases among their workers.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Susan Fenton

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