Belarus restricts coronavirus data as second death from COVID-19 is confirmed

Belarus restricts coronavirus data as second death from COVID-19 is confirmed
Inside the 5th City Hospital in Minsk.
By bne IntelliNews April 1, 2020

The Belarusian health ministry has restricted the provision of data on the number of registered patients with coronavirus (COVID-19), while the state media have run stories of success in dealing with the outbreak over the last few days.

On April 1, local independent media reported a second death from the coronavirus. Natalia Orlova, a 70-year-old English language schoolteacher resident in a village in the Minsk region reportedly died in a local hospital.

The Belarusian health ministry has indirectly confirmed the second death from the coronavirus in the country, saying in a statement that “a second death has been recorded of an aged patient with multiple chronic diseases, which, according to preliminarily data, were exacerbated by coronavirus infection," news agency BelaPAn reported the same day.

The ministry used the same wording in reporting the first coronavirus death in Belarus. The ministry does not say how many people are known to have been infected with the coronavirus in the country, although it has repeatedly claimed that it is not going to hide information.

The ministry begins its statement by saying that more than 32,000 tests for COVID-19 have been performed in Belarus to date. The ministry goes on to say that "activities are underway to monitor the current epidemiological situation and patients are, if necessary, hospitalised for further monitoring and examination".

On March 31, authoritarian Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said that the biggest challenge for the nation at the moment is the economic meltdown. According to Lukashenko, the Belarusians "need to work and use every possibility to save ourselves from this crisis." He also said that "the disease rate peaks every spring, but it goes down later."

The statement appeared against a background of growing criticism of the Belarusian authorities, which have refused to impose a quarantine on the country. Earlier in March, Lukashenko told the nation's inhabitants to take to the fields and drive tractors to fend off the virus, and has told his government the pandemic is nothing more than a "psychosis".

On March 27, the remaining leading media outlets urged the nation's authorities to stop hiding the real situation with the coronavirus epidemic in Belarus, following the health ministry's suspension of daily detailed updates on the number coronavirus cases, which triggered speculations about censorship.

The Belarusian government and the National Bank of Belarus (NBB) are holding discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial support "in the face of economic challenges stemming from the worsening global economic situation and the coronavirus pandemic", the regulator said on March 30.

The talks are about the IMF Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI), which provides member countries with financial assistance to support the authorities’ policies in response to the emergency financing needs, according to the central bank.

Earlier, the IMF announced its readiness to provide up to $40bn to middle-income countries against the backdrop of the rapidly deteriorating global economic situation due to the coronavirus pandemic. Based on the RFI’s access conditions, Belarus would be eligible for up to approximately $900mn.

The statement followed early March's announcement that Minsk is mulling selective default on its external state debt. Minsk faces a peak in its public debt repayments, as Russia refuses to provide fresh financial support to its neighbour. Specifically, Belarus is due to repay $3.6bn in both external and domestic government debt in 2020 and $3.3bn in 2021, according to bne IntelliNews calculations.

In March, Minsk cancelled a new Eurobond placement due to the instability of financial markets caused by the spread of coronavirus.

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