Belarus' president dismisses coronavirus risk, encourages citizens to drink vodka and visit saunas
- In Belarus — a country that borders Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine — 152 people have contracted COVID-19 infections, with no deaths.
- In remarks to U.K newspaper The Times, Lukashenko encouraged citizens to drink vodka (unless working) and visit the sauna at least twice a week to stay healthy.
- "Belarus is definitely a complete outlier," Matthias Karabaczek, Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC via telephone on Tuesday.
As countries around the world effectively shut down to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, the authoritarian president of Belarus is urging citizens to drink vodka, go to saunas and return to work.
A global health crisis has prompted governments worldwide to impose draconian measures on the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people.
The restrictions range from so-called lockdowns and school closures to strict regulations on social distancing and public gatherings.
Yet in the Eastern European country of Belarus, borders remain open, and President Alexander Lukashenko remains unmoved by the coronavirus pandemic.
Lukashenko has refused to implement a lockdown in the country of roughly 9.5 million people, reportedly suggesting that others have done so as an act of "frenzy and psychosis," according to Sky News.
As of Tuesday, more than 801,000 cases of the coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, with 38,743 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
In Belarus — a country that borders Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine — 152 people have contracted COVID-19 infections, with no deaths.
'A complete outlier'
In an interview published Sunday in The Times newspaper in London, Lukashenko encouraged citizens to drink vodka (unless working) and visit the sauna at least twice a week to stay healthy.
The World Health Organization has warned that drinking alcohol does not prevent people from contracting COVID-19, adding it should always be consumed in moderation.
"Belarus is definitely a complete outlier," Matthias Karabaczek, Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC via telephone on Tuesday.
Karabaczek said Lukashenko was taking a big risk by "refusing to accept the new reality of the coronavirus pandemic," warning that the economic impact of the health crisis was already "looking pretty grim for a relatively poor country."
He suggested the Belarusian president, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, was attempting to portray himself as a "strongman" leader ahead of presidential elections in August.
Sports leagues in the country have carried on as normal, with the 65-year-old Lukashenko himself taking part in an ice hockey match on Sunday.
Karabaczek said Lukashenko's participation in the game was an attempt to show the public that they were "all in this together," pointing out that Russian President Vladimir Putin has also previously taken part in ice hockey exhibition matches.
Belarus isn't the only country avoiding lockdowns. Sweden is allowing its citizens to adopt voluntary, softer measures to delay the spread of the virus. It has had 4,435 cases and 180 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data on Tuesday.