What’s COVID-19 up to in Belarus?

Covid 19 in Belarus

Back in January 2020 me and my family had been in Shanghai visiting my father where he lives and works. At the time COVID-19 seemed like any old regular virus that emerges every year, in other words nothing to stress over. If you think about it a new virus appears every year. We had thought nothing of it and were planning a family vacation to Vietnam to escape the winter. My mother, a born worrier had already started to worry about the virus and urged us to stock up on masks and gloves before our trip. The morning of our flight we arrived in a mask, gloves, and a plethora of hand sanitizer. The airport was overflowing with people, all of whom were wearing masks yet standing ridiculously close to each other.

That was the moment when the terror started to sink in, that maybe this virus is more serious than I had thought. I had never seen so many people wearing masks before, this must be serious. I started to realize that maybe this was a big deal but by then we were already headed to an island called Phu Quoc. Once we got there, people took off their masks and precautions and it seemed like everything was back to normal. That was up until we watched as ASIA CLOSED DOWN. Our return ticket to Shanghai was promptly cancelled, and we had no way of getting back to our belongings. That was when we decided to book a flight to Belarus, where my grandmother is from, hoping that in a short amount of time this craze would be over, and we could safely return to China. However, it only got worse. This is how me and my family ended up in Belarus during a pandemic. It was surreal to watch as the world burned around us, closing completely while Belarus remained opened and functioning. Family members and friends called to check in, asking how the situation is for us over here. My mother would jokingly say “there is no pandemic in Belarus.”

Meanwhile over the news I listened to government officials in Belarus stating that poisoning the virus with vodka and banyas was the best cure. I could not tell whether they were joking or not, but then again, this entire situation seemed like a story plot for an apocalyptic post zombie apocalypse movie. My friends in America fought for toilet paper, my friends in Italy were confined to their homes facing heavy fines if they dared to leave and my friends Shanghai were transported home by their home countries. None of this was like anything I had every seen before. None of this was like anything we have ever seen.

 

People kind of spread out, there were no gatherings..

As it currently stands there are 66,348 confirmed cases with 507 deaths and 58,592 have recovered. The first confirmed case was registered in Minsk on the 28th of February 2020. On March 16th President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus dismissed the threat of the virus and encouraged his people to continue working in fields and driving tractors to boost the economy. On March 25th, the government imposed a 14-day self-quarantine for all persons entering Belarus from countries affected by the pandemic, apart from diplomats and their families as well as air crew transiting Belarus on return to their home countries. On March 30th due to the gradual decrease in transparency of official reports concerning the virus led to criticism from the press as well as the people. By April 10th schools spring vacation had been extended by two weeks and by April 9th a mandatory 14-day self-isolation was imposed on foreign and Belarusian citizen with confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis as well as anyone with first or second level contact. The penalties for breaking the self-isolation included administrative detention, fines, and imprisonment.

 

Despite the WHO recommendations the parade continues

On the 9th of May, despite the WHO social-distancing recommendations, the annual Victory Day military parade took place in Minsk, reportedly involving more than 15,000 spectators and 4,000 military personnel. Government officials emphasized the importance of the Victory Day to Belarusians and addressed the critics of the parade: “In this mad disoriented world, there are people who are blaming us for the circumstances we are hosting this sacred event in.  Do not jump to conclusions and blame us, the heirs of the Victory, Belarusians.  We simply couldn’t do it differently; we had no other choice. And even if we had one, we would have done everything the same.

The eyes of the dead soldiers look at us, the eyes of the tortured partisans and underground fighters […] They wanted to live but died for us.” According to Lukashenko by the 21st of May COVID-19 had reached a plateau and was beginning to decline in Minsk and Vitebsk. On the 11th of June, the 14-day self-quarantine had been lifted from persons entering Belarus from 37 countries and all foreign citizens entering Belarus must provide a PCR-Based COVID-19 test certificate acquired no longer than 2 days prior to entering the country. By July 15th, 26 more countries were exempt including Russian. Most events have continued to take place and the number of affected persons has been steadily declining.

 

What is the situation today?

As of today, most bars and restaurants and stores have opened. However, movie theaters and other small business have not yet re-opened. It is not mandatory to wear a mask to most areas excluding hospitals and medical offices. Most business offices have not yet re-opened and most people are still working remotely. Yet most people are no longer afraid of the virus and daily summer activities are in full swing. As Alexander Lukashenko had said “we have defeated the virus.” Overall, the situation looks promising, but it is best to continue social distancing as well as taking preemptive measures concerning hygiene and sanitation for your own safety and health as well as others.

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