An image of COVID-19 virus representing the COVID-19 outbreak in Sweden

COVID-19 | The Case of Belarus

Belarus is a country with about 9.5 million citizens. The area is 207 thousand sqkm which gives a population density of 45.9 persons/sqkm. The capital is Minsk with around 2 million inhabitants, other major cities are Gomel (0.53mn), Mogilev (0.38mn), Vitebsk (0.38mn), Grodno (0.37mn), Brest (0.35mn). Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and is part of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. The national currency is the Belarusian Ruble (BYN).

Different responses to the crisis across countries depend partly on the organization of political authority, as reflected in the level of regional decentralization of decision making in key areas of authority, and the strength and independence of public agencies. In the case of Belarus, the power is highly centralized and most decisions are made either by central government or personally by the president.

It is widely considered that the government in Belarus has a small degree of independence from the president. The authority in charge of dealing with pandemics is the Ministry of Health.

Health Indicators

Belarus had its first officially registered case of Covid-19 on February 27 and the first death on March 31. At first, the increase of the newly registered cases was slower than in most other  countries, but in the beginning of April, Belarus started to catch up, reaching 351 officially registered total cases by April 3. As of April 3, officials in Belarus have performed 32000 cases and tried to trace and isolate all the close contacts in the early phase of Covid-19 spread.

Belarus has a relatively high numbers of doctors and hospital beds per capita. There are 4 doctors, 12 nurses and 8 hospital beds per 1000 citizens and 2.3 intensive care units per 10,000 citizens. Government officials claim that there are 22 lung ventilators per 100 thousand persons and that this number can be increased to 38 if necessary.

Financial Indicators

Belarus currently does not have a properly functioning stock exchange, so it is hard to provide any strong evidence on the changes in corporate valuations. The Belarusian ruble started to depreciate in late February of 2020. Figure 1 depicts the recent developments in the exchange rate with respect to US dollar. Since the beginning of 2020, the US dollar went from 2.1 BYN to 2.57 BYN.

Figure 1: USD to BYN exchange rate.

A graph that represents USD to BYN exchange rate

Source: National Bank of Belarus.

The developments that can be seen on Figure 1 are largely due to the depreciation of the Russian Ruble which in turn was caused by decrease in oil prices as the OPEC+ agreement have failed in early March of 2020.

Government Health Policies

The government’s strategy so far was to identify and trace all the Covid-19 cases by performing a large number of tests (32,000 as of April 3) and isolating the first-degree contacts of infected persons. Public events with international participation were forbidden, however this does not apply to other public events and gatherings including football games and music concerts. As of April 4, government officials are still planning to hold the WW2 victory parade on May 9. Borders and airports are not closed, but persons arriving from abroad are advised to self-isolate for 14 days. There is no state-wide closure of schools and universities. The only closed teaching institutions are those which had students with officially confirmed Covid-19.

There is no state-wide quarantine as government officials deem it unnecessary and President Lukashenka calls the situation “Covid hysteria”. Among the measures taken up to date is financial regulatory easing ordered by the National Bank of Belarus. The government also issued a decree that consumer prices should not increase by more than 0.5% per month. In addition to that, the government plans to spend 110 million BYN (42.5 million USD) on economic support measures.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.