March 12, 2020 / 6:00 AM / 19 days ago

Kazakhstan suspends all public events over coronavirus

ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakhstan is suspending all public events and closing schools and colleges in response to the coronavirus outbreak, authorities said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev speaks during a joint news conference in Berlin, Germany, December 5, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The Central Asian country, which borders China, has so far reported no coronavirus cases, but Kazakh authorities have said the arrival of the disease appeared imminent.

In Kyrgyzstan, which borders both countries, the government said on Thursday it was also suspending all mass gatherings, although it stopped short of closing schools and entertainment venues.

The Kazakh government will ensure a steady supply of food and other necessities, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev wrote on Twitter, urging officials to minimize the impact of the pandemic on small- and medium-sized businesses.

Kazakh officials told a briefing that the spring break at schools would start a week earlier and be extended to April 5, and colleges and universities would switch to distance learning. Cinemas and theaters will also close.

Kazakhstan is reducing the frequency of flights to Western European nations, the United Arab Emirates and Belarus, officials said.

The Interfax news agency quoted deputy prime minister Alikhan Smailov as saying the June World Trade Organisation ministerial conference in Kazakhstan had been canceled.

However, the trade and integration ministry said no decision had been made so far with regards to the WTO conference.

None of the Central Asian nations have reported coronavirus cases, but all have restricted travel to and from the most heavily hit countries.

A third, Tajikistan previously closed mosques and canceled public festivities linked to the Nowruz holiday celebrated on March 21-25.

Uzbekistan, the most populous nation in the region, has so far announced no such restrictions.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Tamara Vaal in Nur-Sultan and Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek; editing by John Stonestreet

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