Saturday November 28, 2020
By Denis Trubetskoy
The second corona wave presents Belarus with major challenges. Instead of fighting them, President Alexander Lukashenko is taking reprisals against doctors who think differently – and threatens doctors who want to earn money in other countries.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko described the coronavirus as “psychosis” in the spring. While neighboring countries like Ukraine and Russia closed their borders and imposed a tougher lockdown, Lukashenko had strange tips for his fellow citizens. Vodka, working with a tractor and going to the sauna would help against the virus, nothing else would make sense anyway. Belarus has decided against any corona measures and even had the parade for the Soviet victory in World War II held on May 9 without a mask being required, although the health system in cities like Vitebsk in the north was already reaching its limits.
In fact, according to UN figures, mortality in Belarus reached its five-year high in the first half of the year. In the autumn, however, the situation looks much worse, even according to rather questionable official data. The number of new infections is now around 1,500 per day, which is the alleged record for Belarus with its 9.5 million inhabitants. In the spring, however, the maximum number was just under 1000 cases.
But reality shows that the situation is much more serious than it was six months ago than the allegedly embellished statistics. Not only did many birthing centers and simple hospitals have to be converted especially for corona patients, the mask requirement has already been introduced in almost all major cities in the country.
For the citizens, the agenda has shifted somewhat
However, the authorities do not go much further, which the medical professionals in particular complain about. This is no coincidence, because sources from the Russian exile medium Meduza in hospitals in the capital Minsk say the actual numbers are up to ten times higher than the official figures. Local activists also assume at least a five-fold difference. “We have to make the decision more and more often whether the seriously ill person is allowed to go to the intensive care unit or not. The Italian scenario is not far away”, quoted Meduza Michail, a Minsk doctor. While demonstrations are taking place in Germany against the corona restrictions, Belarusian doctors consider similar measures to be sensible for their country.
In society, however, it is a little different. “In the spring, people were convinced that the state was doing too little. The parade on May 9 was an example of irresponsibility for many,” Kirill A., a Belarusian journalist, told ntv.de. “The agenda has changed a bit as a result of the controversial presidential election, even if the corona situation is taken seriously.” The protests against the questionable re-election of Lukashenko, which have not stopped since August, have had a significant impact on Belarusian medicine amid the Covid crisis.
21 doctors are in “administrative arrest”
On the one hand, the hospitals are additionally burdened by the victims of the tough crackdown by the Belarusian security authorities against the demonstrators. The hospital where Mikhail works also receives participants in the weekly Sunday demonstrations. “From the outside it sometimes looks as if the patients had previously experienced a terrorist attack or earthquake,” he reports. Treatment is often complicated and requires additional resources. On the other hand, despite the shortage of doctors, the state is cracking down on the doctors who sympathize with the protests against Lukashenko.
According to the Foundation of Medical Solidarity, the authorities fined more than 150 medical professionals for participating in the demonstrations. “21 doctors are currently serving an administrative arrest, which usually lasts 15 days. More than 15 people lost their jobs after the presidential election,” said the foundation coordinator Andrij Tkachev at a press conference. “These are just the cases that were sent to us. The trend is much greater.” Tkachev also assumes that the current development of the epidemic has long since overtaken the situation in spring.
Since the election in August, doctors in Belarus have also been protesting against the brutality of the security authorities and against the inadequate corona policy. This usually takes the form of the traditional Belarusian solidarity chains, but there are often simple demonstrations in front of the hospitals. In addition, more than 4,000 medical professionals have signed an open letter calling for the release of political prisoners and a new presidential election to be held. As a medical professional, however, you don’t have to stand out to be persecuted.
“I was arrested quite banally with a poster on a peaceful solidarity campaign,” another doctor from Minsk told Meduza. She is also facing administrative arrest, but this is not the only problem. “The chief physician of my hospital said clearly: I cannot work in a state clinic with such political convictions. According to him, I work well, but he will now look for a reason to fire me.” There are no personnel to replace them.
Lukashenko doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he threatens the doctors who are leaving Belarus during the epidemic to work in neighboring Poland, for example, and earn money there: “We have no surplus doctors. We will not force anyone to stay in Belarus, but those who have left the country will is no longer welcome here. ” Whether such communication will be well received by Belarusian doctors is definitely questionable.