President’s virus swagger fuels anger forward of Belarus vote

Minsk (Belarus), August 7

As Kseniya Milya’s grandfather lay dying of COVID-19 at a hospital in Belarus’ capital of Minsk, the nation’s authoritarian chief was blithely dismissing the pandemic as “psychosis,” and recommending an uncommon remedy—have an everyday shot of vodka and work arduous within the fields.

Like many different Belarusians offended with the federal government’s cavalier method to the pandemic, Milya joined massive opposition protests forward of Sunday’s presidential vote through which President Alexander Lukashenko is looking for a sixth time period.

The outpouring of public discontent poses probably the most critical problem but to Lukashenko after 26 years in workplace.

Milya mentioned her 86-year-old grandfather, Ivan Shelesny, believed Lukashenko and took no precautions because the pandemic swept by the ex-Soviet nation.

“(He) trusted Lukashenko and TV, who said that COVID-19 doesn’t exist, and he died,” mentioned Milya, a 26-year-old film producer.

“That was a result of the government’s policy. He was attending veterans’ meetings and visiting street markets,” she added. “And he was greatly surprised when he tested positive.”

Milya’s grandfather died of coronavirus-induced pneumonia at a hospital in March, after every week on a ventilator.

“On the day they called me from intensive care to say that my granddad has died of confirmed COVID-19, I switched on the TV and saw the president saying that no one has died of the virus in Belarus,” Milya instructed The Associated Press.

It wasn’t till April that the federal government reported the nation’s first COVID-19 deaths.

Milya and her household have been all contaminated, and couldn’t attend the funeral. Her 46-year-old father spent a month on a ventilator and barely survived, and her mother-in-law has remained in intensive care since April.

“The government was refusing to recognise the virus’ existence or provide assistance, wasting time,” she mentioned.

She mentioned when her father was hospitalised, nobody bothered to check him for COVID-19. Only after every week did authorities do a CT scan and put him on a ventilator for 31 days.

As the pandemic engulfed the world, Lukashenko ignored the World Health Organization’s name for a lockdown.

Instead, the 65-year-old former state farm director suggested Belarusians to “kill the virus with vodka,” go to saunas and work within the fields to keep away from an infection. “Tractors will cure everybody!” he proclaimed.

Lukashenko has refused to impose any restrictions, making Belarus the one nation in Europe to maintain holding skilled soccer video games with followers within the stands whereas the outbreak was in full swing.

Religious providers and different mass gatherings continued unimpeded, and a large army parade was held in May to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nazi defeat in World War II.

Last month, Lukashenko abruptly introduced that he obtained the virus himself however had no signs and allegedly recovered rapidly because of doing sports activities.

He has staunchly defended the federal government response, claiming that intensive testing helped stop the uncontrolled unfold of the illness and arguing {that a} lockdown would have been lethal for the economic system.

His method, mixed with a painful financial fallout from the worldwide pandemic, has helped swell the opposition ranks forward of the vote.

Previously apolitical, Milya was among the many tens of 1000’s who flocked to marketing campaign rallies for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former trainer and the spouse of a jailed opposition blogger who’s difficult Lukashenko in Sunday’s vote.

“The offer to use tractors and vodka was like spitting in people’s faces,” Tsikhanouskaya instructed the AP in an interview.

“That disrespectful, disdainful attitude … had a strong impact at a time when people badly needed help amid the pandemic. And all they got was that boorishness.”  The nation of 9.5 million has reported greater than 68,500 confirmed infections and 580 deaths. Critics have accused authorities of manipulating the figures.

“No one, even the authorities themselves, trusts Belarus’ official statistics,” mentioned Pavel Paleichik, an ambulance physician from the western metropolis of Lida who was handed a 7-day jail time period and misplaced his job after complaining — at an opposition rally — in regards to the lack of protecting gear.

Paleichik claimed that authorities urged medical doctors to attribute COVID-19 deaths to different causes.

“The situation is horrible. We lack protective gear, people have to wait for an ambulance for 3-4 hours,” Paleichik instructed the AP.

“I didn’t want to tolerate that and keep silent like others. And I faced harsh reprisals from the authorities because of that.” While the authorities have sat again, a broad volunteer motion has unfold throughout the nation to gather cash for medical doctors and to assist develop public consciousness of the pandemic.

“The outbreak has shown that the Belarusians are capable of strong solidarity,” mentioned Andrei Tkachev, a coordinator for the BYCOVID-19 volunteer group that has collected cash and protecting gear for medical employees.

The volunteers have collected USD 350,000 for the hospitals and offered medical employees with 450,000 respirators, hazmat fits and different protecting gear.

“Everybody is equal in the face of the coronavirus, we have offered protective means to the military and police as well,” Tkachev mentioned.

Authorities in Belarus have seen the volunteer motion as a problem. Andrei Strizhak, one of many leaders of BYCOVID-19, needed to flee to Ukraine along with his household after receiving threats.

“The coronavirus has become an impulse that triggered massive discontent with the government, and specifically with Lukashenko,” Tkachev mentioned. “Many people have grown tired of being afraid and keeping silent.” Although Belarus didn’t impose a lockdown, its economic system has nonetheless been badly battered by the worldwide pandemic. — AP

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