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  1. ITV Report

'Here we're playing with fire': Life in Belarus continuing as normal despite coronavirus spread

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers

Belarus continues to defy measures taken in neighbouring countries against the spread of Covid-19 – with the president instead advising the population to drink vodka.

Europe remains “in the grip” of the coronavirus pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization's (WHO) European office warned last week.

In his warning, he also pointed to an increase cases in Belarus among other countries.

Social distancing is not happening in Belrus. Credit: ITV News

Despite the acceleration in infection, the country largely carries on as normal with no rules against public gatherings and no restrictions placed on sport.

Speaking in a packed church, President Alexander Lukashenko said: “I’ve proceeded with one simple wisdom borne from our people - when things are hard it’s best not to change our way of life.”

Last month he advised vodka would help to protect against the virus - an idea that is totally at odds with WHO advice.

President Alexander Lukshenko spoke in a packed church. Credit: AP

The streets are quieter than normal and some of his people are not happy with the absence of measures.

One football fan, speaking from outside a stadium, said: “Everywhere else, everything has stopped, here we are playing with fire, we are playing roulette.

“I love football, it’s beautiful, but it seems to me it shouldn’t be like this.”

Some are fearful at the lack of measures. Credit: ITV News

There are some concession for health with temperature checks and hand gel before games, but there is no question of the match being called off,

In a health ministry video, doctors have warned against coronavirus but there is no official policy of lockdown.

Maxim Ivashin, a musician from Minsk, described the president as out of touch with reality.

“There was a moderate degree of panic at first, and now it’s despair mixed with self-initiative,” he told ITV News.

“The most prevalent opinion is that the president is in his own cloud, which has very little to do with reality.”

Next week, tens of thousands are expected to attend a Victory Day event marking the anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

As the country remembers the last great crisis to cripple Europe, the rest of the continent is hoping Belarus will soon take the current one far more seriously.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know