Policy responses for Belarus - HSRM


Policy responses for Belarus

6. Measures in other sectors

6.1 Measures in other sectors

Many MEASURES IN OTHER SECTORS beyond the immediate scope of the health system are being taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This section contains information on many of these areas, including border and travel restrictions and economic and fiscal measures, among others.

The first re-opening measures became effective in mid-June: The national airline Belavia resumed some international flights, restrictions on transit truckers were lifted, and self-isolation rules for travelers returning from many European countries were cancelled. In order to facilitate travel abroad, the Ministry of Health has developed a certificate of the absence of COVID-19 and is identifying clinics where the certificate and a test can be obtained for a fee.

On 29 October, due to the epidemiological situation in neighboring countries, Belarus temporarily restricted entry into the country for several categories of persons coming from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine via ground border checkpoints. The restrictions do not apply to personnel of diplomatic missions and consular institutions, who have diplomatic passports and service passports. The restrictions do not apply to drivers of vehicles, which are designed for international transportation by road, and to personnel of international trains. The border checkpoint in Minsk International Airport operates without these restrictions.

The borders have remained open throughout, but foreigners in Belarus can extend their visas to 90 days if necessary and there is scope for extensions beyond this if required. On the 20 May, The State Border Committee, together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Belarus, the IOM Development Fund, and the EU, launched an information campaign for people entering Belarus. Border guards will issue brochures with information about COVID-19, recommendations regarding the spread of the virus, and rules of conduct during self-isolation in Russian and English.

Temperature screening measures are in place at Minsk National Airport and all land border control points. Double thermal screening is conducted at Minsk airport. The first thermal screening is done inside the airplane, while the second is conducted inside the airport building.
With regards to the economic implications of COVID-19, reduced foreign trade and investment is expected to impact on the local economy regardless of whether other restrictive measures are approved at the national level. These could have negative impacts on economic actors and the welfare of citizens and vulnerable groups.

The Government has so far undertaken some measures in the financial sector to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. These measures include relaxing certain prudential requirements by the National Bank on reserves and the assessment of credit risk by financial institutions of commercial credit until 31 December 2020.  It was also recommended that banks do not pay dividends to shareholders during 2020. With regard to personal loans, the National Bank forbade commercial banks to unreasonably raise interest fees on payments or to limit banking operations.  It also recommended that banks grant loan repayment holidays and to postpone due dates for loan repayments.

On 23 March 2020, the Council of Ministers announced that drafting of a set of nation-wide economic measures to support business, industry and agrarian sector in response to COVID-19 had begun. On 19 April, the draft was presented to the Government and business associations for discussion. The document included proposals for the State Property Committee to support those sectors most likely to be negatively impacted: tourism and transport services, hotels and sanatoriums, public catering, consumer services, and other industries. The draft presidential decree would apply to lessees (borrowers) of real estate owned by the state and by companies with a state share in excess of 50%. Among other things the draft presidential decree offered respite on rent and fees (covering the expenses relating to the upkeep and operation of the real estate) until 30 September 2020. The money can be paid by installment until 31 December 2020. Also, the draft presidential decree introduced a moratorium on raising the basic rent and rental payments until 30 September 2020. The Ministry of the Economy pledged 55 million BYN to support businesses under what became Order No. 143 “on Support to the Economy”, signed 24 April 2020. The sectors covered includes the manufacturing industry, textiles and clothing production, wholesale and retail trade, air transportation, fitness centres, beauty salons, hairdressers, restaurants, bars, travel companies, and others.

As of 16 July, 3467 enterprises had applied to the executive committees for tax benefits and preferences and 1266 of them have already been able to take advantage of the decree's measures. In addition, the regional councils of deputies lowered the single tax rates for the second and third quarters. According to the submitted declarations, 34 392 individual entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the lowered tax rates.  As of 1 July, 5155 tenants had applied for state lease relief and it had been granted to 3562 of them (https://news.tut.by/economics/693305.html).

Price controls on staple goods were introduced on 15 April 2020, and controls were extended until the end of 2020 on 11 August. Staple goods include: fish, butter, vegetable and rapeseed oil, wheat flour, edible salt, white rice, buckwheat, oats, macaroni, bread, beef, pork, poultry, eggs, milk, kefir, sour-cream, cottage cheese, baby food, potatoes, beetroot, carrots, cabbage, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, apples, and black tea (https://eng.belta.by/economics/view/price-controls-on-staples-to-remain-in-place-in-belarus-till-2021-132493-2020/).

Some fiscal measures are being implemented on the local government level (e.g. in Minsk on June 1 and June 11). Public sector salaries are also being kept at least at the legislated minimum and subsidies are being granted to public sector organizations forced into part-time employment or to stand idle for a specified time.

There is also a considerable grass-roots movement of people in voluntary support of those most affected by COVID-19. Dozens of local campaigns have sprung up to buy and produce medical protective equipment, crowdfund financial support from local and diaspora communities, provide lunches and discounted taxi journeys for health professionals, or maintain nursing support for older people and other at-risk populations. Minsk-based IT-companies donated 700,000 filter masks (protection class FFP2) to Belarusian doctors. A couple of smaller companies, have been voluntarily using their equipment, for example, 3D printers, to produce medical protective equipment for hospital staff.