Belarus Is 'Fighting' Coronavirus By Drinking Vodka And Driving Tractors
While much of the world takes drastic measures to fight a virus that has infected more than 1.2 million people, Belarusian leaders have adopted a different approach.
The eastern European country had reportedly adopted few measures to manage the coronavirus pandemic -- unlike many of its neighbours.
While other European countries imposed national lockdowns, life in Belarus -- on sporting fields and in churches for Palm Sunday celebrations -- appeared to go on as normal.
But President Alexander Lukashenko has claimed the country is taking "all the precautionary measures".
Lukashenko has run Belarus for a quarter of a century. At a press conference last month, he reportedly called COVID-19 "yet another psychosis" that will "benefit some people and harm others".
"Despite some criticism on my part, I call this coronavirus nothing other than a psychosis, and I will never deny that, because I've gone through many situations of psychosis together with you, and we know what the results were," he said, according to Belarusian state news agency BelTA.
Lukashenko has also claimed panic will hurt people more than the virus itself.
He has suggested drinking vodka twice or three times a week "will do you good", and downplayed the need for social distancing, suggesting sauna sessions and driving tractors as other ways to manage the virus.
"It's better to die standing than to live on your knees, " he said.
Meanwhile, life went on as normal. While most football leagues across Europe were suspended, Lukashendo decided the season in Belarus would go ahead.
Fans continued turning up to matches and were required to have their temperatures taken as they entered stadiums.
Some local supporters told Reuters they do not fear the virus.
"No, we are not afraid as we are all soaked through with booze,” said Yevgeny, a fan at a recent match.
But others have taken matters into their own hands. Some schools have reportedly switched to distance learning, while some cinemas and cafes have closed voluntarily and other Belarusians have limited social interactions without an order to do so.
“Today in Belarus, there is a paradoxical situation where society does many times more than the authorities do,” Andrey Dmitriev, head of Tell the Truth, a group that calls for more openness from the authorities, told Reuters.
“Society does not trust the state today. A total lack of information will mobilise people to take personal action.”
The health ministry limits information about COVID-19, publishing data only every few days without giving total numbers. According to figures reported on April 7, the country now has 700 confirmed cases and 13 deaths.
Only in recent days has BelTA reported on stronger measures, such as self-isolation for returning travellers, being implemented.
But according to Belarusian Deputy Healthcare Minister Yelena Bogdan, the situation "remains under control".
"Our epidemiologists estimate that the measures we've been taking since late January 2020 have allowed preventing 840 cases per day so far," she was reported to have said on April 3.
"We know what to do," he was reported to have said on April 3.
"We are taking all the precautionary measures... will continue doing what we are doing now."