Kazakh 'Leader of the Nation' Nazarbayev, 79, has coronavirus


Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan) (AFP)

Kazakhstan's 79-year-old former president and official 'Leader of the Nation' Nursultan Nazarbayev has tested positive for the coronavirus, his website said Thursday, as officials warned of a potential second lockdown to curb a rise in cases.

"Currently, the First President of Kazakhstan is in self-isolation. Unfortunately, the last test... for the coronavirus infection showed a positive result. There is no cause for concern," the website said.

It said that Nazarbayev is "continuing to work remotely."

Strongman Nazarbayev, who turns 80 next month, served as Kazakhstan's president for close to three decades before handing the reins over to hand-picked successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev last year.

His health is a national conversation topic due to the impact that his death could have on the vast, oil-producing former Soviet republic of more than 18 million people.

Nazarbayev retains a number of powerful positions in the authoritarian Central Asian country including the chairmanships of the national security council and the ruling party.

He is also constitutionally honoured as the 'Leader of the Nation' -- a designation that provides him with unique policymaking privileges.

Other high-ranking Kazakh officials who said this month that they had tested positive for the coronavirus include Health Minister Yelzhan Birtanov and Nurlan Nigmatulin, who is the chairman of the lower house.

Berik Uali, President Tokayev's spokesman, also tested positive for the virus.

Unlike Nazarbayev, who met with Nigmatulin last month, Tokayev has regularly been shown sporting a mask in his meetings with top government officials.

Tokayev said this month that he had accepted an invitation from Russian leader and close ally Vladimir Putin to attend a June 24 military parade in Moscow marking the end of World War II.

- Second lockdown threat -

Kazakh officials have been warning of a potential second lockdown as cases grow steadily following the easing of restrictions last month.

A statement on the prime minister's website Thursday said that shopping centres, parks and gyms would all be shuttered over the coming weekend in key cities including the capital Nur-Sultan and the largest city Almaty.

The country currently has close to 16,000 registered cases, almost 10,000 of which are recovered patients, while the number of fatalities reached 100 Thursday.

Earlier this month authorities said that they were no longer counting people that had tested positive for the coronavirus but were not exhibiting symptoms among total cases.

Even after his election last year, many observers viewed the loyalist and diplomat Tokayev, 67, as a temporary figure, who could eventually make way for a member of Nazarbayev's family.

But predictions of an eventual hereditary succession suffered a blow in May after Tokayev dismissed Nazarbayeva's daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, from her powerful position as senate speaker.

The dismissal, which Nazarbayev has not commented on publicly, sparked talk of a power struggle at the very top of the leadership.

Nazarbayeva had the highest political profile of Nazarbayev's relatives and the position she held made her constitutionally second in line to Tokayev.