MINSK, 19 October (BelTA) – Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko gave his take on the efforts of the authorities to combat the coronavirus pandemic as he hosted a meeting to discuss the epidemiological situation and the COVID-19 response in Belarus on 19 October, BelTA has learned.
The head of state emphasized that he had convened a meeting to discuss treatment of people, and not the so-called fight against COVID-19. Governors and other regional officials joined the event via video link. Government members and experts gathered in the Palace of Independence in Minsk.
At the beginning of the meeting, Aleksandr Lukashenko asked Healthcare Minister Dmitry Pinevich: “I assume that all people in attendance are healthy, right?”
After the minister replied in the affirmative, the head of state asked another question: “Have you put them into quarantine before the meeting with the president, have they done PCR tests?”
This time the minister's answer was negative.
“How come, you have come to the head of state, (there is only one president in Belarus) and have not checked those present here? It turns out that you do not practice what you preach. I have asked you this question for a reason. You have done the right thing, because it is not how things work in our country. Although people all over the world do not meet with the president without prior quarantine,” the president said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko continued: “I asked this question because I wanted you to answer another question: if you come to the president freely, why are you giving ordinary people such a bad time?”
The head of state emphasized that throughout the pandemic not a single person who headed for the meeting with the president was asked whether he/she was vaccinated and had a PCR test done: “Kochanova was always outraged by it. She is in charge of Minsk, and the Palace of Independence is in Minsk, so this situation would make her really mad. Well, despite this indignation, she herself comes to the president without a test result.”
“Why are we putting pressure on people then? Why have you made such a big deal out of it? Why have you mobilized the police to check whether people are wearing face masks? You perform body searches not even sparing women,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.
In this regard, he turned to the minister of internal affairs: “I warned you. Do you have nothing else to do? Why are you breaking the law? We do not have such a law. Who are you playing along?” the head of state asked.
“So if you treat people, then treat them properly. Starting from this zone and ending everywhere on the streets. You have caused such a commotion all over the country. I think the governors have heard us. As far as I know, they in Brest have already started giving fines and coercing people to get vaccinated. I had asked you though not to allow this to happen!” the Belarusian leader said.
He noted that some experts who came to the meeting in the Palace of Independence were wearing masks. “This is their right. I do not force anyone. Tertel [the KGB chairman] never wears a mask when he comes to me. God be with him. When Pinevich arrives, he throws a mask in the reception room before entering. I do not force anyone to wear masks. This is your right,” the head of state said.
“If a person is sick, for example Pinevich gets infected with COVID-19, he will never go to the president,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.
He emphasized that every person living in Belarus should act in the same way. “Moreover, why are we keeping people in the dark? We do not know everything about this disease. And every person should act the way they see fit. We will talk about it now,” the president said.
“Look, they have started giving fines. Who authorized them to do this? What law says that you have the right to fine people?” Aleksandr Lukashenko raised this question again.
At the same time, he emphasized that law enforcement agencies are under-performing in the matters that are part of their job description. “Subbotin [Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Subbotin] and the minister will tell you that in Gomel Oblast cows are slaughtered at night and sold to Russia. We cannot cope with it, while the police are catching people who are not wearing masks. God forbid you fail to catch this scum [people involved in the illegal sale of meat] within two weeks! They have really gone rogue,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.
Then the president returned to discussing COVID-19 and various kinds of restrictions associated with it. “We are acting inappropriately, while forcing people to be perfect. No, Dmitry [Dmitry Pinevich], this will not do. Go back to what we did in the first wave,” the head of state demanded.
In his opening remarks the head of state said that he was briefed about the situation in the country, including on people's sentiments on the internet. "I have already told you about the frenzy: people are going crazy. Some are boiling over, others require action from the presiden). Listen, I report to people on TV on what I do every day. I can't deal with COVID issues from morning till night. I have an entire ministry and thousands of people in white coats for that,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
He noted that the president must supervise a lot of issues. One of them, for example, is the situation in agriculture, harvesting, autumn field works. "I also have to deal with the issues of the sanctions that have been imposed against us. Thousands of thousands of such issues," the head of state emphasized.
"This is childish. People got the idea that the president is not very involved in the COVID-19 issue," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “This is our fault, Mr Pinevich. We have put people on their toes with what we say. We put them on alert, get them worried but things have not got better. "
"We have imposed all kinds of draconian measures during this time. Did it become better? No. Mr Pinevich, we will need to focus on treatment. We will not do without it," the Belarusian leader stressed.
Aleksandr Lukashenko explained that he does not mind people wearing masks and getting vaccinated, but treatment issues are of outmost importance. He is sure that if the healthcare system works effectively, then the problem will be minimized literally within a month. "If we focus on COVID and anti-COVID policies rather than treatment, people will start rioting. Like it has happened in Europe," he warned.
He also cited the example of fraternal Russia: "I know how hard they have been working. They have gloves and masks requirements and what not. Still the incidence is rising. The rise is higher than in Belarus. You should look at what is happening in the world and draw the appropriate conclusions."
Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized that, despite his negative attitude to all kinds of restrictions, vaccination is important and he has never opposed it.
The head of state gave an example of a Minsk factory that decided to reward people for vaccination. As a result, almost the entire team has vaccinated. "Of course, I am against people buying their health, but this is the right of people and the enterprise they work for. But they were not made to do it. You can act differently not like they do in Brest Oblast imposing all kinds of restrictions and requirements. Perhaps other governors act this way too. We will look into this and get these things in check," the president warned.