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Millions take part in Belarus civic day amid coronavirus

April 25, 2020

The traditional "subbotnik" community clean-up went ahead with millions of people, including doctors and nurses. Belarus' president previously called the virus a "coronapsychosis."

People take part in "Subbotnik", a day of volunteer community work on Saturday, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Minsk, Belarus
Image: Reuters/V. Fedosenko

Belarus' government ordered millions of people to participate in a traditional day of mass community action on Saturday, despite the country's rising coronavirus infection rates.

A total of 2.3 million people took part in the state-ordered mass painting, tree-planting and general clean-ups — around a quarter of the Eastern European country's population.

Latest official figures show 9,590 coronavirus cases and 67 deaths in the country. On Saturday, Belarus reported 817 new virus cases, the country's highest single-day increase.

The country's government has not imposed social-distancing requirements or restricted public activities. Of the hundreds of people working alongside President Alexander Lukashenko, none were seen wearing masks.

Read more: Belarus: How death squads targeted opposition politicians

Subbotnik – a soviet-era tradition during a pandemic

The civic community day, known as "subbotnik" — taken from the Russian word for Saturday — is a Soviet-era practice, but it has been retained by Lukashenko.

The government ordered all state employees, including doctors and nurses, to take part in the day — state enterprises and services account for about 55% of Belarus' workforce. Some healthcare workers were given the option of forfeiting some of their wages, a loss of about $3 (€2.8) for a doctor.

"Subbotnik is the good that we took from the Soviet period, that's the whole ideology,'' Lukashenko said while planting trees in southern Belarus.

Alexander Yaroshuk, head of the Belarusian Congress of Independent Trade Unions criticized the move, saying the order showed the government neglected "the health and life of its citizens" while satisfying its own ambitions.

Read more: Europe's hot summer weather could worsen the effects of COVID-19

How is Belarus handling the pandemic?

The authoritarian Lukashenko previously called the virus a "psychosis." Few containment measures have been taken, drawing international criticism.

Schools in Belarus have been open since Monday after a three-week holiday break and soccer matches continue to be played.

kmm/aw (dpa, AP, Reuters)

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