Post-Soviet strongmen prescribe vodka, hockey and folk medicine against coronavirus

Take, for instance, Belarus, a small country sandwiched between Russia and European Union member Poland: President Alexander Lukashenko has shrugged off concerns about Covid-19, telling his people that hockey, vodka, and banya — a traditional sauna — are the best cures.

Lukashenko, who has ruled the country of 9.5 million people for more than a quarter of a century, has imposed few restrictions to prevent coronavirus from spreading further.

Restaurants, parks and bars remain open. Mass sporting events go on as scheduled and attract hundreds of spectators, in defiance of the World Health Organization’s social distancing recommendations. The Belarussian Premier League is now the only soccer competition on the continent.

And Lukashenko himself hasn’t limited public appearances, opting to play in a hockey match on Saturday.

“It’s better to die standing than to live on your knees,” he said, rinkside in full hockey gear, in an interview with state television. “This is a fridge, this is healthy, there is nothing better than sport, especially ice which is the real anti-viral medicine.”
Belarus has officially reported 94 cases of coronavirus — and no deaths — but Lukashenko’s critics have cast doubt on those statistics, warning that authorities there could be downplaying the numbers as the country gears up for a presidential election later this year.
Lukashenko has made his own recommendations to combat the virus, suggesting that Belarusians should drink vodka to “poison the virus,” or attend a banya.

“I once mentioned that people need to go to banya to fight different viruses, this one included, since Covid-19 doesn’t like high temperatures and dies at +60 C, as the experts informed me,” Lukashenko said, adding that if you don’t have hand sanitizer, drink vodka.

“When you get out of sauna you shouldn’t just wash your hands — down a shot of vodka,” he said. “I don’t drink myself, and I don’t advocate for it, but I’ll be okay with, it’s tolerable at least until Victory Day on May 9.”

There is no clear evidence to indicate that the coronavirus can be controlled by high temperatures, experts say.

Business as usual

Belarus has yet to close its borders — its response so far has been limited to a two-week quarantine order for all those arriving in the country. But all of its neighbors — Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia — have shut theirs.

Work hasn’t stopped either, as Lukashenko is concerned at how the coronavirus response is hurting the global economy. He says he found inspiration in US President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the cure for Covid-19 should not be worse than the virus itself.

“I liked his recent statements very much,” Lukashenko said of Trump, during a visit to a plaster plant last week, according to an official transcript. “He said, ‘If we do not immediately return to enterprises and start working, then much more Americans will die from unemployment than from coronavirus.’ Now you understand why I didn’t close the factories.”

In post-Soviet Central Asia, some local strongmen have

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