By Natalya Grigoryeva – Jun 20, 2020
MINSK – Speaking to Grodno labor collectives on June 16, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko explained that his country’s experience in combating coronavirus infection has already become “the property of the whole world”, and the World Bank is even ready to allocate $ 300 million to Minsk to share the details of its tactics.
Such statements by the Belarusian leader during the Covid-19 pandemic are not new. He had previously said that the situation in Belarus had become interesting to the world community, since they didn’t go along the path recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), preferring not to quarantine the country. At the same time, Minsk always reminded that not only Belarus decided to act according to a similar scenario, citing Sweden as an example.
The Belarusian authorities have repeatedly emphasized that they managed to prevent high mortality from coronavirus in the country due to the fact that the Soviet health care system was preserved here, and all necessary measures were taken to fight for every human life. According to the official position of the head of the Belarusian Ministry of Health, Vladimir Karanik, it helps to cope with the disease by the fact that “unlike most European countries, Belarus has maintained a sanitary and epidemiological service, the country is also provided with doctors, a bed facility, oxygen access points, and mechanical ventilation devices (mechanical ventilation) , an adequate level of laboratory diagnosis. ”
“In general, low mortality in patients with coronavirus infection in the republic is explained by early diagnosis and detection of infection in people who do not have symptoms, effective measures to isolate patients and contacts. Effective epidemiological measures to protect vulnerable groups of the population – the elderly and senile, as well as those with some chronic diseases, also explain the low mortality from Covid-19 infection, ” the Belarusian department noted earlier.
Formally, the fact that Belarus really managed to turn the tide, and since the end of May the country has been on a plateau, is confirmed by official statistics. Over the past weeks, the incidence rate in the republic of coronavirus began to decrease gradually, and the number of people who recovered, on the contrary, increased sharply. For example, by June 19, Belarus already officially had an excess of the number of people recovering from Covid-19 over newly diagnosed cases for two weeks running.
Only 57,333 cases of infection were recorded, which amounted to an increase of 676 people per day (+ 1.2%). At the same time, 35,275 patients recovered, or 1,252 over the past day (+ 3.6%). 337 patients died at this incidence rate. In total, 821,887 tests were carried out in the country, which is still one of the highest indicators in the post-Soviet space. It’s worth noting that the mortality rate of 4-7 people per day, even despite a decrease in the incidence rate, remains the same. This, together with a number of other reasons, including the stable increase of about 900 people a day since the end of April, has long called into question the veracity of the information given by the Belarusian authorities about the real situation in the country.
It is worth recalling that Belarus did not officially declare a state of emergency due to the spread of coronavirus infection, although the first case was recorded before the pandemic was announced in late February. Against the backdrop of a panicking Europe, Belarus actually turned into almost the most liberal country, where human rights and freedoms were not curtailed. As you know, Belarusian educational institutions formally continued to work, a number of major public events were held, including the Republican community work day and the Victory Parade in Minsk, most sports championships continued, and the republic left the borders open.
This was officially explained by the fact that quarantining the country would lead to serious problems in the economy, because of which there would be nothing to “eat”. And this position of the Belarusian leader at the beginning of the pandemic was explained quite simply – against the backdrop of the ongoing economic recession and the upcoming August 9 presidential election, stopping any non-political activity in the country threatened with serious socio-economic upheavals. Moreover, it must be remembered that in Belarus, about half of those employed work at state enterprises or are civil servants, and sending them to quarantine should have been paid by the state, which simply does not have money for it.
Together with the inability to go out, this could give rise to a high level of tension in Belarusian society, which could well provoke massive protests and problems in the presidential election. Therefore, the republic’s authorities decided not to officially impose quarantine, publicly showing people that there is no serious danger in the country, and all this is “coronapsychosis,” which is beneficial to someone. Alexander Lukashenko personally became the leader of this opinion, speaking publicly without wearing a mask, greeting him as before, and advising Belarusians, either as a joke or seriously, to be treated with vodka, butter, breathe the smoke of a fire and ride a tractor.
“Wash your hands more often, have breakfast in time, have lunch and dinner, you need to not only wash your hands with vodka, but also, taking into account pure alcohol, take 40-50 grams and poison this virus. But not at work … No panic, just work. Especially now in the countryside, it’s nice to see how people work on the tractor and no one talks about viruses. The tractor will cure everyone, ”the Belarusian leader said in March.
At the same time, while the official media and the leadership of the republic said that the coronavirus was no worse than other diseases, the healthcare system and the Belarusians themselves were embroiled in a serious struggle with it. Despite the fact that quarantine was not officially introduced, the country in one form or another switched to it. So, since mid-March, many private companies on their own initiative transferred workers to remote work. After a three-week vacation, the schools were allowed not to attend classes and study remotely. A similar approach was organized in most Belarusian universities. According to various surveys, about two-thirds of Belarusians began to wash their hands more often, and half stopped attending social events. There are fewer people on the streets and in public transport. Due to the lack of spectators, most concerts and performances were canceled, and cafes, bars and cinemas either began to close or shorten their time.
At the same time, Belarusian doctors took a number of measures aimed at preventing the spread of infection. In Belarus, they began to be hospitalized not only with pneumonia, but also all patients, even with mild symptoms of coronavirus. In addition, people began to bring people of the first and even second level of contacts to hospitals. At the same time, many volunteer initiatives arose in the country, which were involved in raising funds for doctors, cooking food, sewing personal protective equipment, and more. In general, the Belarusian society and the Ministry of Health showed solidarity, despite any statements from officials. And, according to experts, this is precisely what allowed without official quarantine to avoid the development of a negative scenario in Belarus, which many drew for it. According to official figures,
The situation began to change from the end of May – beginning of June and began to have a dual character. On the one hand, as mentioned above, according to official statistics, the incidence of Covid-19 has declined. This has already led to the fact that more and more Belarusians have appeared on the streets and in public places, bars and restaurants have again begun to fill up with visitors, amusement rides, cinemas and entertainment centers have begun to work. After a two-month break, first one water park opened in Minsk, and then a second one in the open.
In parallel, the state media continued to talk about how the Belarusian health care system copes with the situation, and citizens can not worry about anything. Moreover, demonstrating full control over the situation, the Ministry of Health of Belarus began to gradually change the rules for the provision of medical services to combat coronavirus. For example, at the end of May, the agency amended the protocols for treating patients with Covid-19, as well as the testing principles. It was noted that with a mild course of coronavirus, the patient can close the sick-list already 14 days after the onset of clinical symptoms, as “the literature does not describe cases of infection of patients 21 days after the diagnosis of the appearance of the clinic in mild forms of the disease.
It is noteworthy that later there was another decision stating that before discharge from the hospital PCR testing would be only if the person was transferred to medical rehabilitation or to spa treatment. If the patient was treated in the hospital and does not have clinical symptoms of the disease, then he can be discharged or transferred to outpatient treatment after an express antibody test.
It is worth noting that on June 15 the government of Belarus decided that coronavirus was included in the list of diseases that give the right to free provision of medicines, as well as medical nutrition. The Ministry of Health, commenting on this provision, noted that at present, some patients with Covid-19 infection “receive treatment at home.” To them in Belarus began to include “patients with mild and moderate forms of the disease, including mild pneumonia.” Given this circumstance, the fact that the Belarusian hospitals have ceased to experience excessive load due to the coronavirus epidemic becomes quite understandable.
The latter, as well as the fact that the authorities of Belarus began to talk more and more about a possible repeated wave of coronavirus and problems in the future, is the second side of what is happening today in Belarus. Despite official statistics showing positive dynamics, statements and actions of the Belarusian authorities began to cause concern, which was not even in April or May. Thus, the Ministry of Education of the Republic actually banned all entertainment events for graduation parties, allowing only the solemn presentation of certificates. Minister of Health of Belarus stating that there may be a second wave, he prefers not to talk about what kind of mortality from pneumonia is observed in the country, referring to the need for calculations based on the results of six months. Leading epidemiologists, in particular doctor of medical sciences, professor, epidemiologist Natalya Kolomiets , began to emphasize that in the country one cannot refuse social distance and other measures, since “nothing will go away by itself”. In her opinion, in Belarus there are only “sprouts of hope that have sprouted and are still too weak for us to behave carelessly.”
In addition, a number of Belarusian cities suddenly began to officially introduce a mask regime. For example, from June 19, this provision is introduced in Bobruisk. Now in public places where it is impossible to ensure social distance, people should be masked. Earlier, a similar regime was introduced on its own initiative in the Ivyevsky district of the Grodno region (it is advisory in nature), the Kirovsky district of the Mogilev region, the Braslavsky region of the Vitebsk region, etc. In all these cases, the need to introduce such measures was caused by “worsening of the epidemiological situation in the region,” than they don’t report to the central media of the republic.
The position of international organizations, especially the World Health Organization, does not add much optimism. As the official representative of WHO in Belarus Batyr Berdyklychev noted on June 12 , the situation with Covid-19 in the republic looks serious, and the country itself is “at the stage of local transmission of the virus.” Moreover, in the spring, statements by officials of this organization were much more optimistic, and official statistics were not called into question by WHO. Now, though indirectly, Berdyklychev doubted that the methods for counting cases of coronavirus infection and mortality from it in Belarus correspond to reality.
The situation is warmed up by persistent media reports that it is practically impossible to get treatment for coronavirus in the country, local doctors make a diagnosis of coronavirus infection extremely rare, and stubbornly refuse to indicate Covid-19 death certificates. The latter is officially in Belarus due to the fact that the basis for the pathologists to pose the cause of death from coronavirus is the presence of a pathomorphological picture with laboratory confirmation of Covid-19. In this case, in contrast to the WHO instructions for coding the cause of death, where it is recommended to use the codes U07.1 (Covid-19 and the virus is identified) and U07.2 (Covid-19 and the virus are not identified, but there are also suspicions) use code B97.2, which means that coronavirus has become the leading cause of death.
The Ministry of Health of the Republic explains the low mortality by the fact that the country conducts early diagnosis and detection of infection in people who do not have symptoms, as well as “effective measures to isolate the sick and contacts” and “effective epidemiological measures to protect vulnerable groups of the elderly and senile age, as well as having some chronic diseases. ” At the same time, they plan to conduct a detailed analysis of mortality in the country only when the pandemic is over.
The situation in Belarus with the Covid-19 has repeatedly become the topic of the most heated debate, including in Russia. For example, the incident occurred on June 10 at an international online conference held by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. Guzel Ulumbekova, rector of the Higher School of Health Care Organization and Management, criticized the modern organization of Russian health care, including the work of Rosportebnadzor, setting Belarus and its experience in the fight against coronaviruses as an example.
In response, in a harsh form, the former head of the State Sanitary and Epidemiological Supervision of the Russian Federation Gennady Onishchenko said that she is “not the specialist who will discuss the place and role of Rospotrebnadzor”, advising her not to give lectures “to the professor, academician and former first deputy minister”. According to analysts, the main reason for such disputes is that, without introducing quarantine, Belarus, according to official figures, is going through a pandemic relatively calmly. It is not possible to obtain any other data on the real situation in the country today. At the same time, relying on various kinds of messages in telegram channels and opposition media is not at risk either in Russia, or in the EU, or in WHO, being content only with the information that the Belarusian state brings to them.
Thus, it can be stated that in the situation with coronavirus infection, the authorities of Belarus officially made a bet on preventing the deterioration of the socio-economic situation in the country. This is due not only to the impossibility of paying for the downtime of state enterprises, but also to political necessity. In anticipation of the presidential election to be held in the country on August 9, the creation of additional tension in society due to the Covid-19 pandemic was recognized as unacceptable. Moreover, a gradual decrease in the number of patients with coronavirus may indicate that by the day the vote is held, the authorities may well declare victory over the disease, which, in their opinion, will only strengthen their authority among ordinary citizens.
At the same time, the real actions of local officials and representatives of the healthcare system make it extremely cautious to say that official information about the situation with Covid-19 in Belarus is in line with the real situation. At the same time, the Belarusian authorities, in fact, managed to defeat the coronapsychosis.