Kazakhstan tightens COVID-19 restrictions, former president tests positive

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ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakhstan said on Thursday it would tighten coronavirus-related restrictions during the coming weekend and an aide said former President Nursultan Nazarbayev had tested positive for COVID-19.

Shopping malls, markets and parks will be closed in big cities on June 20-21 and additional hospital beds will be made available for COVID-19 patients, the government said, citing a worsening of the outbreak in the Central Asian country.

It also ordered all provinces to broaden testing for the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The spread of the virus has accelerated in the nation of 19 million since it ended a nationwide lockdown last month. Kazakhstan had reported about 23,000 cases as of Friday, with 100 deaths, up from about 5,000 at the end of its lockdown.

Nazarbayev’s spokesman, Aidos Ukibay, announced on Twitter that the former president had tested positive for the virus. At 79, Nazarbayev retains sweeping powers as national leader, chair of the security council and head of the ruling party.

“There is no reason for concern,” Ukibay wrote.

Several members of the oil-producing nation’s government self-isolated earlier this week after Healthcare Minister Yelzhan Birtanov and lower house speaker Nurlan Nigmatulin tested positive for COVID-19.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Hugh Lawson