KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Belarusian authorities on Friday abolished the warrants to wear masks, less than two weeks after they were first introduced during the pandemic and a day after the country recorded a record number of new infections with coronavirus.
The move came after authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko dismissed the measures as unnecessary in a meeting with officials earlier this week.
“It is just too much to send police officers to hunt down those who are not wearing masks,” Lukashenko said. “We are not the West.
Mask warrants were introduced on October 9 amid a new wave of contagion. Belarusians were required to wear medical masks in all indoor public spaces, including public transport and shops.
The country reported 2,097 new confirmed infections on Thursday, the highest number yet.
When the pandemic hit, Lukashenko called worries about the coronavirus “psychosis” and refused to impose restrictions. The country was the only one in Europe to continue hosting professional football matches with fans in the stands as the epidemic was in full swing.
The 67-year-old former state farm manager advised Belarusians to “kill the virus with vodka”, go to saunas and work in the fields to avoid infection. “Tractors will cure everyone! He proclaimed.
His cavalier attitude towards the coronavirus amid contagion and skyrocketing deaths angered many Belarusians and contributed to public outrage over Lukashenko’s re-election to sixth term in an August 2020 vote – which the opposition and the West have rejected as a sham.
Belarusian authorities have responded to months of massive protests with a fierce crackdown that has seen more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police – a crackdown that has triggered deadly Western sanctions.
While announcing the abolition of short-lived mask mandates, Lukashenko, who ruled the former Soviet nation of 9.5 million for more than 27 years with an iron fist, earning the nickname ” Europe’s last dictator “in the West, added a touch of sardonic humor, saying:” That’s the advantage of a dictatorship – whoosh, and a bad decision is no longer valid. “
Lukashenko’s statement came even as daily infections have surpassed 2,000 in recent days, prompting Belarusian authorities to suspend other medical services to allow hospitals to focus on treating patients with COVID-19.
Lukashenko offered his own advice to medical workers to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, suggesting they should offload patients faster.
“You shouldn’t keep people who don’t need a long hospital stay for 7-10 days,” he said. “If you see a patient getting better and no longer needing IVs and stuff, just send them home.”
In another bizarre twist, Lukashenko said Belarus has seen a reduction in the number of cancer patients during the pandemic and speculated that COVID-19 could be a “cure for oncological diseases.”
He added that doctors initially believed the decline in cancer patients was linked to fewer people turning to medical assistance during the pandemic, but said the explanation was not sufficient. He did not provide any facts to back up this bizarre claim, which sparked an avalanche of critical comments.
Belarus has recorded a total of more than 580,000 infections and 4,482 deaths. Only about 20% of the population has been vaccinated, with Russian and Chinese vaccines.
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