Does Belarus downplay the global coronavirus pandemic?

Guus Krol)

Belarusians began to feel the consequences of the global coronavirus pandemic around the beginning of the second decade of March 2020. The authorities were forced to restrict the entry and departure rules in response to similar measures taken by neighboring states (Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and others) to limit the movement of people. These affected both the crossing of the state border by car and the cancellation of flights and long-distance trains.

State authorities are also taking several internal measures: social service centers have intensified work with older people at home, “hotlines” have been opened, fleets of buses are being washed daily, and, as it was ordered by them, hand sanitizers and napkins were put in place at all stores, etc. Factories measure the temperature of workers before shifts too.

Enterprises, schools, shops, banks, construction sites, and transport are operating normally, nothing is paralyzed, although some clothing outlets have been closed. Nevertheless, mass events are being held in an abridged mode. The national basketball and handball championships are switched to non-spectator mode, but the more mass football and hockey championships are being held with them, which is surprising for fans from all other countries. The attendance of matches has decreased and amounts to 500–3000 people depending on a matchup. Spectators are checked with thermal imagers before being allowed to the stands.

As the newspaper “Narodnaya Volya” reported, masks are usually being in stock in pharmacies, though since February they have risen in price 5 times. Unfortunately, in a couple of March weeks, the national currency exchange rate against the euro and the US dollar fell by about 20%. This is also an echo of the same devaluation of the Russian ruble because Russia is the main economic partner of Belarus. There are sufficient bulks of products in stores, although their prices have got an uptick at 5–10% and even more for imported goods (tea, coffee, fruits) since recently.

At the highest level in the person of president Alexander Lukashenko, the significance of the coronavirus problem is being downplayed, while audacious statements are being made, for example like one on March 28 for the Belarusian Telegraph Agency, “It is better to die standing than to live on the knees.” But there is a certain fuss in society, the fear intensifies, since the coronavirus is widely covered through information channels, including showing stories from the USA, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Great Britain.

In March, the national media reported about ca. 100 patients hospitalized with the suspected coronavirus or already confirmed cases. The vast majority of them had arrived in Belarus already infected from China, Italy, and other countries. About a third of them have already been discharged, the others are still being treated. No deaths directly from coronavirus have been reported. All visitors from countries with poor conditions are being quarantined for 14 days. More than 25,000 coronavirus tests made in March were also reported.

There are people on the streets, but not many, and almost no one is wearing masks, because many people have their vehicles and rarely walk. There are no infected members of the Belarusian section of the ISHR.