Policy responses for Belarus - HSRM


Policy responses for Belarus

1.2 Physical distancing

Up to now, Belarus has introduced only mild restrictions and physical distancing measures, however, the Government expresses its commitment to introducing more severe restrictions when the situation with COVID-19 gets worse. 

From the very beginning of the situation with COVID-19 in Belarus, social distancing was advised only for those who were isolating, either because they were cases or contacts of confirmed cases or had returned from an area with a large number of cases but remained asymptomatic. Recommendations on social distancing was produced by the Ministry of Health in the form of restrictions on non-essential visits and avoidance of mass gatherings, public transport and close contact with persons, particularly individuals who were considered vulnerable (elderly, those with chronic conditions, pregnant women) (http://minzdrav.gov.by/ru/sobytiya/prafilaktyka-pa-nedapushchenni-raspa-syudzhvannya-karonavirusa/).
Wearing face masks is mandatory for workers in social services, post offices and other persons (i.e volunteers) providing home services.

On 12 March 2020, the Government introduced restrictions on сultural, sports and scientific events with international participation until 6 April 2020 (http://minzdrav.gov.by/ru/sobytiya/o-provedenii-massovykh-meropriyatiy-v-respublike-belarus-/). Belarus however remains the only European country that did not suspend national football championship.Although the Executive Committee of the Belarusian Volleyball Federation decided to end the men and women’s Belarusian Volleyball Championships early and a regular cross-border marathon between Belarus and Lithuania has been postponed until 11 July 2021. The Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB) abandoned plans to stage outdoor rallies on 1 May. The statement included the need to show solidarity in a different manner this year, by working together to fight the spread of the pandemic instead of arranging crowded events. Important events in the Eastern Orthodox calendar at the Zhirovichi Monastery were scaled back on 19 May and all services will be held in accordance with safety rules and physical distancing.
On 19 March 2020 it was announced by the Government that measures are under preparations to increase frequency of public transportation and shift the schedule of educational institutions to decrease overcrowding during peak hours on public transport, at least in cities. Belarusian Railways introduced new spacious seating plans in trains with reserved seating for passengers to maintain the necessary physical distancing in compartments on 15 April to run until June 15 inclusive. Overall there was a significant reduction in the volume of passengers on public transport in Minsk – 20% lower on trolleybuses and the Metro and 17% lower on buses (https://www.svaboda.org/a/30734526.html).

 On 19 March 2020 it was announced by the Government that measures are under preparations to increase frequency of public transportation and shift the schedule of educational institutions to decrease overcrowding during peak hours on public transport, at least in cities (https://www.tvr.by/news/obshchestvo/v_minske_izmenyat_raspisanie_obshchestvennogo_transporta_i_nachalo_zanyatiy_v_vuzakh_/).

The Ministry of Education of Belarus considers that at this stage there is no need to cancel classes at universities and vocational colleges over the COVID-19 pandemic (https://www.belta.by/society/view/minobrazovanija-schitaet-netselesoobraznym-vvodit-karantin-v-vuzah-i-ssuzah-384641-2020). Students showing even the slightest symptoms of a viral infection are urged to stay at home and call in a doctor. School holidays will start as scheduled and will last from 30 March to 5 April 2020. School-based camps will be running through the holidays, so parents can leave their children at school if needed.

On 7 April 2020, Minsk city municipality issued an order “On mandatory measures related to COVID-19”. In sharp contrast to previous recommendations, this document introduced mandatory measures and administrative liability for violations. Starting from that day, all exhibitions and presentations, group excursions in museums, group visits to theatres and cinemas were prohibited. Universities and colleges were encouraged to provide distance learning and reschedule lectures to reduce overcrowding. Vacations in schools were extended until 13 April, and then until 18 April. Final exams in secondary schools are still scheduled (with appropriate sanitary measures), but students who are self-isolating are exempted. Kindergartens remained open with voluntary attendance. Public meal organizations were required to ensure the distance of not less than 1.5m between tables. All ceremonies, like weddings, funerals, etc, were prohibited. Dental clinics were limited to urgent care. State services centres, state institutions and banks were switched to working by appointment only and online where possible. All public facing service providers had to do daily temperature screening of all their staff. Additional measures on cleaning and disinfection were introduced for community buildings, public transport and religious facilities.

As of 23 April, no substantial changes have been made to physical distancing policies. Instead, there has been some relaxing of the relevant measures: regular medical check-ups have been resumed in polyclinics, private dentists have been allowed to provide medical care, and mass sporting events have continued. Schools were re-opened from 20 April, with a recommendation for all pupils to wear masks and wash hands regularly (https://news.tut.by/society/681173.html). On 25 April, Belarus hosted a nation-wide “subbotnik”, meaning that people worked voluntarily and without pay on a Saturday with the proceeds going to the upkeep of war memorials and children’s summer camps (https://news.tut.by/society/681029.html). On 9 May 2020, a nation-wide public holiday with a big military parade took place in the capital city (Minsk). According to official data, more than 15,000 people attended. The 20th National Festival of Belarusian Song and Poetry - "Molodechno 2020" has been postponed until June 2021, due to the epidemiological situation.

As of 15 June, 1,900 daytime school camps will open nationwide. The camps are to follow guidelines on infection prevention. At a camp in Minsk, the children will have their temperature measured daily and teachers must wear masks. On 28 August, Irina Karzhova, of the Ministry of Education said all schools will start the new school year as usual on 1 September.

From 3 June, Minsk National Airport asks passengers to use protective masks when entering the terminal and before leaving the airport, to adhere to other preventive measures such as hand hygiene, physical distancing of 1.5m and respiratory etiquette. To avoid unnecessary contact, people welcoming and seeing off air passengers are asked not to enter the terminal building and to use meet and greet areas outside the airport terminal.

For the scheduled elections on 9 August, the Ministry of Health has developed recommendations to prevent the spread of respiratory infections (including COVID-19) when voting, including recommending voters when visiting the polling station to wear personal protective equipment (mask, gloves). Upon request of a member of the precinct commission, the voter should remove their mask to be identified. If possible, voting should be conducted without entering the premises and in compliance with the principle of social distance, keeping a distance of at least 1 metre. Voters should use their own pens to sign the receipt of the ballot in the list of citizens eligible to vote, as well as to fill out the ballot. If pens are shared, they need to be treated with an antiseptic after each voter. Voting booths, tables and other contact surfaces like door handles should be disinfected at least 6 times during election day and handsanitizer should be available at all times.

On 18 August, the Minsk City Executive Committee revised the list of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in trade and public facilities, as well as in educational institutions including measures recommending and requiring wearing of masks, gloves and adherence to measures such as physical distancing and sanitary measures.. Museums, libraries, including reading rooms, as well as exhibition complexes must operate in compliance with social (physical) distancing, and employees must be provided with personal protective equipment (masks and gloves), technical breaks must be organized for ventilation, wet cleaning and disinfection. It was recommended that fairs, exhibitions, presentations and other events be held with the observance of social distancing and the use of masks and gloves by staff. Staff in discos, nightclubs and bowling alleys should also wear PPE. Hairdressers, tattoo parlors, beauty salons, permanent make-up salons and other similar establishments were recommended to work by appointment only, with an interval between clients of at least 5 minutes and all staff wearing masks.

Recommendations in Minsk as of 18 August also ask managers of facilities of all forms hotel business, retail, public catering, social services, organizations providing postal services, as well as city support services and other organizations to note the temperature of all staff before the start of a shift. Any person with high temperature should not start their shift. These facilities should also mark out physical distancing guides for customers of at least 1.5m and post information about the need to maintain a safe distance. In addition, detergents and disinfectants, personal respiratory protection equipment and gloves, and dispensers for treating hands with antiseptics should be available.

The Minsk City Executive Committee also recommended remote working where possible – especially for meetings. Also, in higher, secondary specialized and vocational educational institutions, the recommendations are for at least partial distance learning where possible or one-to-one training. On 24 August, nationwide guidelines for educational institutions for the 2020/21 academic year were published by the Ministry of Health. The document was developed in accordance with Article 23 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On Sanitary and Epidemiological Welfare of the Population" and it provides a set of measures aimed at reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection.

Local responses to the resurgence of COVID-19 means that in November, face masks were made mandatory in all enclosed public spaces in Vitebsk, Mogilev, Bobruisk, Grodno, Minsk region and Brest. Nightclubs, casinos, bars and restaurants in Brest, Pinsk and Luninetsky district also had to close at 23:00 and mass e vents were banned until 10 December.