By Stefan J. Bos
Schools are opening but parents in Belarus are not exactly standing in line to send their children to lessons. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist for more than a quarter-century, ordered classes to resume at the nation's 3,067 schools.
His order came after the regular one-week break was prolonged by two additional weeks. But many parents are scared to send their children to school as the coronavirus rages through the nation.
The country's Education Minister, Igor Karpenko, admits only 40 percent of Belarus' 960,000 schoolchildren are due to show up at school in the coming days. He adds that students could continue their studies remotely. Factories, stores, and restaurants in Belarus also conduct business as usual.
That's not all. Spectators still fill stands at some sports events. But defending champions in Belarus have started putting mannequins in the stands as soccer fans stay away from stadiums because of the coronavirus.
But Belarusian President Lukashenko isn't worried. "It is better to die standing than to live on your knees," he said recently at an ice hockey event in which he participated. "There are no viruses here. Have you seen any flying around? There is nothing better than sports or than this rink to beat the virus," Lukanhesko added.
And he has consistently dismissed concerns about the new virus and lockdowns imposed elsewhere in Europe as "corona psychosis."
His government even announced a mass community clean-up event for Saturday. In keeping with a Soviet-era tradition, it will be attended by hundreds of thousands of state employees despite the growing coronavirus outbreak. And Orthodox churches throughout the country opened their doors for Easter services.
But many remain home these days as the number of people known to be infected in the nation of 10 million surged by nearly one-third to 6,264 since Friday, including 51 deaths.
Belarus now has more confirmed virus cases than neighboring Ukraine, which has four times as many people.