The Covid denier: Belarus President says it will be beaten with vodka, saunas and working on tractors so his people are reduced to spray painting the death toll in graffiti
- Alexander Lukashenko a former farm boss is known as Europe’s last dictator
- Lukashenko claims the virus has only claimed four lives in the country so far
- Anti-Lukashenko has started to pop up in Vitebsk as concern grows
In the absence of an official Covid-19 death toll – at least one that anyone believes – the people of Belarus rely on an altogether more primitive source of information.
A street kiosk in the former Soviet republic’s fourth city, Vitebsk, bore a terse, medieval warning in red spray paint last week.
‘Vitebsk, 22 corpses. Stay home.’
Informed locals, most likely health workers, secretly record similar updates on the walls of buildings elsewhere in Vitebsk and in the capital Minsk, though they are hastily painted over by the authorities. How accurate they are is anyone’s guess.
But one thing is certain. The figures are given more credence than those released by the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, a former collective farm boss known as Europe’s last dictator, who insists the virus has claimed only four lives.
Miss Belarus 2018 Winner Maria Vasilevich and Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko
He is the leader who glibly beseeched Belarussians to stay healthy by drinking vodka, working hard in fields and visiting saunas.
The sub text was clear: the West might fuss but why should we? Many found his words amusing but The Mail on Sunday last week discovered that few in this landlocked nation of 9.5million are laughing now.
In the past few days, the virus has left hospitals filled with victims. One overwhelmed, equipment-starved doc tor claimed she was forced to ‘rewrite medical records’.
Others say the health ministry has stopped recording new infections, listing them as pneumonia instead.
As of Friday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases was 350. Dissent is ruthlessly crushed and people live in fear of the secret police, whose name, despite nearly 30 years since the fall of communism, is still the KGB.
Meanwhile, Lukashenko, 65, pictured last year canoodling with a Miss World finalist 43 years his junior, carries on as normal. On Friday, he visited a farm near Minsk and his pronouncements on the pandemic – which he dismisses as ‘corona psychosis’ – continue to border on comical.
Neighbouring Lithuania’s president Gitanas Nauseda said he cannot trust the official information coming from Belarus and said Lukashenko ‘assesses the situation through the lens of his bravado’.
In response. Lukashenko issued this playground jibe: ‘Take care of your own virus!’ Lukashenko, who won his fifth term in 2015 with no significant opposition candidate permitted to stand, has allowed shops, markets and restaurants to remain open and is encouraging people to go out to work.
Belarus is also the only country in Europe where top-flight football is continuing in front of paying fans, though some players are now refusing to turn out for their clubs.
Photographed in Belarus, Vitebsk town: Grafitti reads: Vitebsk, 22 corpses, stay home!
In a bizarre speech, Lukashenko insisted working on tractors would protect people from the virus. ‘There shouldn’t be any panic,’ he said. ‘You just have to work, especially now, in a village.
Tractors will cure everyone! The field heals everyone!’ Lukashenko also said daily shots of vodka would kill the virus.
‘I don’t drink but recently I’ve been saying people should not only wash their hands with vodka but also poison the virus with it,’ he said.
‘You should drink the equivalent of 40-50ml of rectified spirit daily. But not at work.’ Last week, he moderated his language somewhat but was still refusing to entertain the idea of even partial restrictions.
While some in Belarus follow social-distancing rules they have learned from social media, the busy Kupalawskaya metro station in Minsk was last week as crowded as ever and groups of young people gathered on nearby Zybickaja Street in anticipation of a night out in the city’s many bars and clubs.
Katarina, 20, a design student said: ‘People make judgments themselves, while the government is either quiet or telling lies.
Instead of announcing an emergency situation or quarantine, they prefer to prepare for victory day parade in May to mark the end of the Second World War.
That will see thousands more spectators on the streets.
Crazy.’ One female doctor in Vitebsk agreed: ‘High officials claim this is nothing, that this is all psychosis. Unfortunately it is not. It is madness of course to think vodka can solve this.
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