Belarus volunteers plug gaps in supplies to virus-hit medics

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by Alexander Grebenkin

Young men in dark hoodies and tracksuit bottoms form a human chain to pass down black sacks from a storeroom and pile them in the back of a car.

These Belarusian volunteers have stepped in to rush free supplies of much-needed protective equipment to hospitals as authorities in the ex-Soviet state play down the scale of the coronavirus epidemic.

Belarus has stood out for its lack of official response since the start of the pandemic as President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly disputed the seriousness of the virus.

The volunteers for a group called ByCovid19 are taking sacks of protective suits and face masks to a hospital in the small town of Chervyen, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) west of the capital Minsk.

In front of the hospital, white-coated medics unload the sacks and pile them high on a trolley.

“We have enough personal protective equipment at the moment,” says the hospital’s chief nurse, Natalya Sycheva, as she receives the supplies.

“But who knows what the ongoing situation will be and how long we’ll need this for. So we need stocks for at least two weeks.”

The country of some 9.5 million has a sizeable coronavirus epidemic. On Tuesday the number of confirmed cases reached 37,144 and 204 have died.

The true scale could be higher, says 33-year-old Andrei Tkachev, one of the coordinators of ByCovid19.

“Unfortunately the statistics from the hospitals are very depressing. And they are different from what is published officially: they are much worse.”

Lukashenko has described virus fears as “psychosis”, while advocating unproven preventive measures such as drinking vodka and taking steam baths.

He has kept public events running including the football season.

On May 9, he went ahead with an annual military parade to mark the Soviet victory in World War II, including some 5,000 troops and watched by war veterans, some not in masks. (AFP)

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