MOSCOW — Belarusian cases of covid-19 continue to climb by almost 1,000 cases per day in a nation where the soccer league continues, markets, shops, factories and cafes have stayed open and President Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed global lockdowns as “corona-psychosis.”
The number of reported cases grew by 951 to 28,681 Saturday, far higher than neighboring Ukraine, which has reported 17,858 cases and has four times the population. The number of officially reported deaths reached 169 in Belarus.
As Ukraine and Russia have begun gingerly reopening some facilities, Belarus continues as before. A week ago, the nation held a Victory Day parade, with thousands flocking to the capital Minsk, including elderly war veterans.
“I am absolutely positive that people are better off breathing in fresh air than being locked down,” Lukashenko said Tuesday.
Belarus has been ruled since 1994 by the authoritarian Lukashenko, a former collective farm director, who is seeking reelection in August. Under his leadership opposition figures, activists, bloggers and journalists have been arrested and jailed.
Lukashenko has scoffed at Europe’s coronavirus restrictions and attacked the idea of self-isolation, insisting that no one would die from the virus. His disdain for the problem hampered efforts to prepare for the crisis and left doctors short of protective gear.
A group of activists and bloggers calling themselves bycovid19 sprang up on social media to launch a campaign to crowdfund protective equipment, particularly respirators, for medical staff.
In March, Lukashenko dismissed the idea of isolation and border closures and urged people to get out into the fields to plant the harvest.
“You just have to work, especially now, in a village,” he said. “There, the tractor will heal everyone. The fields heal everyone.” He took to an ice-rink for a hockey game that month, telling reporters “It’s better to die on our feet than live on our knees.”