World Belarus scraps short-lived mask mandates amid virus surge
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Belarus is accused of taking revenge for EU sanctions by offering migrants tourist visas, and helping them across its border. The BBC has tracked one group trying to reach Germany. © BBC The mobile phone camera pans left and right, but no-one moves. The exhausted travellers lie scattered among the trees. Jamil has his head in his hands, his wife Roshin slumped forward next to him. The others look dead.Late afternoon light slants through the forest, the pine trees forming a dense natural prison. They've been walking since four in the morning.
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarusian authorities on Friday abolished mask mandates, less than two weeks after their introduction for the first time during the pandemic and a day after the country registered a record number of new coronavirus infections.
The decision came after Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko dismissed the measures as unnecessary during a meeting with officials earlier this week.
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Experts say getting people vaccinated against COVID-19 should be a top priority. Is the Biden administration's vaccine mandate the right way to do it?"We are watching our friends and family and neighbors die in front of our eyes," said Thornell, CEO of Cheyenne Regional Health System, the state's largest.
“It’s just over the top to send police to track down those who aren’t wearing masks,” Lukashenko said. “We aren’t the West.”
The mask mandates were introduced on Oct. 9 amid a new wave of contagion. Belarusians had been required to wear medical masks in all indoor public areas, including public transport and stores.
On Thursday, the country reported 2,097 new confirmed infections, the highest number so far.
When the pandemic struck, Lukashenko had dismissed concern over the coronavirus as “psychosis” and refused to impose any restrictions. The country was the only one in Europe to keep holding professional soccer games with fans in the stands while the outbreak was in full swing.
The 67-year-old former state farm director advised Belarusians to “kill the virus with vodka,” go to saunas and work in the fields to avoid infection. “Tractors will cure everybody!” he proclaimed.
U.S. Says It Will Not Be Deterred as Belarus Forces Closure of Humanitarian Office
The move comes as Belarusian authorities face criticism for what's been called an excessive crackdown on protests over the country's 2020 presidential election.The U.S. and and its allies have spoken out against the crackdown, and Samantha Power, the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator, said the closure of the humanitarian offices showed the authorities' "callous disregard of the interests of the Belarusian people.
His cavalier attitude to the coronavirus amid soaring contagion and deaths angered many Belarusians and contributed to the public outrage over Lukashenko's re-election to sixth term in an August 2020 vote — which the opposition and the West have rejected as a sham.
Belarusian authorities responded to months of massive protests with a ferocious crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police — a repression that triggered bruising Western sanctions.
While announcing the abolition of the short-lived mask mandates, Lukashenko, who has run the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million for more than 27 years with an iron hand, earning the nickname of “Europe's last dictator” in the West, added a touch of sardonic humor, saying: “This is the advantage of a dictatorship — whoosh, and a wrong decision is no longer valid.”
Lukashenko's statement came even as daily infections have topped 2,000 in recent days, prompting Belarusian authorities to halt other medical services to allow hospitals to concentrate on treating COVID-19 patients.
Belarus forces US to close public diplomacy, USAID offices
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarus has forced the closure of the U.S. Embassy’s Public Diplomacy and USAID offices in a move that comes amid the tensions with the U.S. and its allies over Belarusian authorities' crackdown on protests. Samantha Power, the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator, said Friday that the Belarusian authorities aim to “severely disrupt U.S. development assistance and public diplomacy in Belarus by forcing the closure of facilities that house key U.S. Government operations, and by ending employment of all of USAID’s local staff and Department of State public diplomacy staff.
Lukashenko offered his own advice to medical workers to avoid hospitals from being overwhelmed, suggesting they should discharge patients more quickly.
“You shouldn't keep people who don't need long hospitalization for 7-10 days,” he said. “If you see that a patient is getting better and no longer needs intravenous injections and other things, just send him home.”
In a further bizarre twist, Lukashenko said Belarus has seen a reduction in the number of cancer patients during the pandemic and speculated that COVID-19 could be a “remedy from oncological diseases.”
He added that doctors first thought the drop in cancer patients was linked to fewer people turning for medical assistance during the pandemic, but claimed that the explanation wasn't sufficient. He didn't provide any facts to support the strange claim, which has caused a barrage of critical comments.
Belarus has registered a total of more than 580,000 infections and 4,482 deaths. Only about 20% of the population have been vaccinated, with Russian and Chinese vaccines.
Poland plans 'radical' strengthening of its military .
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's ruling party leader presented plans Tuesday for a bill to “defend the fatherland,” legislation he said is aimed at “radically” strengthening the military as the country faces migration pressure from its eastern neighbor Belarus. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who holds the position of deputy prime minister but is undisputedly the most powerful politician in Poland, said the bill is needed due to a deteriorating international situation and also to Poland's geopolitical location.