ASHGABAT, TURKMENISTAN (AFP) - Turkmenistan plans to vaccinate foreign athletes competing in the isolated Central Asian state, one of the few countries in the world yet to declare a coronavirus case, state media said on Thursday (Jan 21).
The former Soviet state is set to hold qualifying events for tennis' Davis Cup and will host the Track Cycling World Championships in October.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was shown discussing preparations for the sports events with another official, in a broadcast on a state-owned sports channel.
The Turkmen leader said foreign athletes should be able to choose the vaccine they want to be inoculated with.
"And we must provide this vaccination for free," he added.
Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a government body that is financing the production of Russia's Sputnik V jab, said on Monday that Turkmenistan had become the first Central Asian country to approve Sputnik.
Mr Berdymukhamedov has said the Turkmen government is in talks with other companies over importing their vaccines.
Foreign observers had earlier cast doubt on the country's claim that it has no cases of the coronavirus.
The government imposed a strict lockdown after the World Health Organisation, in a visit by a team of experts to the country last July, called on Turkmenistan to take steps "as if Covid-19 was circulating".
In addition to ordering citizens to wear masks and non-essential businesses to shut, the authoritarian leadership has championed herbal remedies including wild rue and licorice root as weapons against the virus.