MINSK, Belarus, January 7, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – With the U.K. and other European countries making a seemingly never-ending series of announcements about new COVID crises and increased lockdown measures, Belarus - a country which has never imposed a hard lockdown - continues to report low rates of COVID cases and a comparatively prospering economy.
Back in March last year, as countless countries across the globe began to shut down their economies and mask up their citizens “just-in-case", President Aleksander Lukashenko bucked the trend by opting not to close down Belarus’ economy at all, and employing a targeted approach to screening and quarantining COVID positive individuals.
Belarus’ largest news agency, BelTA, reported that, alongside screening, prioritising the healthcare system from being overburdened helped keep any outbreak under control: “[t]hanks to the preventive efforts and the bed space reserve, Belarus has been able to keep the situation within the scope of the resource capacity of the healthcare system.”
These proportional methods appear to have served the country well throughout the course of 2020. Off-Guardian reports that, of the 9.5 million citizens in Belarus, only 1,263 are recorded as having died from COVID-19. That number accounts for little more than 0.01% of the population.
The online news outlet contrasted the number of excess deaths during 2020 in Belarus, which avoided lockdown, with that in England and Wales, which did impose a national lockdown. When the population difference is accounted for, Belarus had 36% less excess deaths than England and Wales. The Off Guardian notes that this would mean that if “Belarus had the same excess death rate as England and Wales another 3,149 deaths in Belarus would have been observed.”
According to the latest data from Worldometer Belarus has a death rate of 157 per million population, whilst the U.K. has a death rate of 1,135 per million.
Although a number of mainstream media outlets have lambasted Lukashenko as “reckless” for his approach to lockdowns, the data on Belarus’ handling of COVID suggests a different story.
“So far Belarus is coping with this. God willing, we will keep going at such a pace, and as experts say, flatten the curve and have the incidence of the disease fall among the population,” Lukashenko said back in April 2020.
“But what if they, let’s say, recommend us to impose some measures up to the curfew? I stress once again: if such a need arises, we will impose the curfew, isolate cities, towns and villages. But is the country facing such a problem today?”
“No, it doesn’t,” he answered. “Therefore, we will not shrug off the recommendations, but we must act accordingly, based on a set of recommendations, our own experience” the Belarussian leader said. Referencing the harsh lockdown restrictions imposed by his European counterparts, Lukashenko said that there “is no room for hit-or-miss or just-in-case strategies.”
Following worldwide national lockdowns last year, Belarus reached out to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial support amid the global economic downturn, seeking to buffer itself against its own potential financial troubles. Belarus was only one of around 80 countries that had requested immediate financial aid from the institution through its “Rapid Financing Instrument,” a mechanism by which IMF member states can quickly receive emergency financial assistance.
But Lukashenko claimed that the IMF then approached him with a financial package worth “ten times more than it offered initially as a token of commendation for our efficient fight against this virus.” In exchange for a “COVID Relief Aid” package worth $940 million, the president said that the IMF required him to impose a number of harsh lockdown conditions on the public.
Lukashenko has refused to incorporate the conditions attached to the money and the country has thus never received the $940 million aid fund. “I am convinced that we may suffer more from panic than from the virus,” he said last year.
“The IMF continues to demand from us quarantine measures, isolation, a curfew. This is nonsense,” Lukashenko said last year. “We will not dance to anyone's tune.”
“We hear the demands, for example, to model our coronavirus response on that of Italy. I do not want to see the Italian situation to repeat in Belarus. We have our own country and our own situation,” the president said.
The IMF’s director of communications Gerry Rice admitted, in a press briefing in September last year, that “no agreement was reached, and we have not found a way to bridge significant differences about the appropriate response to the present challenges” whilst arranging a COVID relief package with Belarus. He added that “we [the IMF] sought assurances for steps to contain the pandemic in line with WHO recommendations.”
The WHO’s guidance, which the IMF relies on for distributing emergency COVID funding, for nations implementing COVID-19 measures is contained in a document entitled “Considerations in adjusting public health and social measures in the context of COVID-19.” The guidelines stipulate that governments “ensure public health measures such as isolation and quarantine are undertaken to reduce onward spread.” The document also suggests that governments enforce “wearing a mask where appropriate, and physical distancing” at the lowest levels of perceived risk of the spread of the virus.
As the perceived risk of spread increases, the guidelines suggest measures such as the “[c]losure of non-essential businesses or remote working as much as possible,” and that “[i]ndividuals should stay at home and limit social contact with people outside the household.”
The Belarussian experience contrasts starkly with that of its neighbors in Europe, whose closing of national borders and halting of industry has seen record economic crashes.
Britain has seen the largest economic slump in its recorded history, and the largest drop amongst the biggest world economies, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). During the height of the national lockdown, between April and June, the U.K. recorded a 20.4% contraction in economic growth, followed by Spain, at 18.5%. These two normally prosperous countries both instituted tight lockdown restrictions in March last year, with Spain enforcing the regulations by placing the army on the streets.