The leader of majority-Muslim Tajikistan on Thursday urged the faithful to forego fasting during Ramadan to safeguard against "infectious diseases" even as he stressed the absence of coronavirus cases in the country.
In an address welcoming the Islamic holy month of fasting, President Emomali Rakhmon said it makes people "vulnerable to infection from infectious diseases" and urged farmers and manual workers to postpone the ritual.
"Although this disease is not registered in our country, this does not mean that we should be careless and sit idle," Rakhmon wrote in the address released by his office.
Saying he was citing Islamic scholars, Rakhmon described fasting as harmful for "farmers, livestock breeders and those who work hard".
"I urge all those who work in the fields and produce prosperity... to reschedule the fast to another, more favorable time," said Rakhmon.
Impoverished Tajikistan is one of the handful of countries that have not reported a single case of the novel coronavirus.
Another is fellow ex-Soviet state Turkmenistan.
Turkmen authorities said at a meeting of officials and donor agencies on Wednesday that the reclusive gas-rich state had sourced ventilators and test kits from abroad in preparation for potential infections.
"I am very frank! If there was a single registered case of coronavirus infection in Turkmenistan, we would immediately inform the World Health Organization and the international community!" Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov told the meeting.
While Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have largely Muslim populations, both countries have been cited by the US State Department as top offenders against religious freedoms.
In 2018, Tajikistan's pro-government religious authorities advised workers building the giant Rogun Dam -- a flagship hydroelectric facility of central importance to the economy -- not to keep the fast.