‘Sitting on volcano’: Minsk doctor about inaction, cover-up amid COVID-19 outbreak

Мinsk infectious diseases hospital. Photo: Iryna Arakhouskaya / Belsat

When reached by belsat.eu, Minsk-based intensivist Katsyaryna has made a comment on the epidemic situation in Minsk and regions on condition of anonymity. According to her, Belarus may be facing a perfect storm.

Most hospitals have been repurposed for treating patients having pneumonia and coronavirus pneumonia as well as those who contacted with the infected, the doctor informs.

“This means that they have suspended planned admission and surgeries, i.e. they are not being performed at all. The patients diagnosed with pneumonia and COVID-19 are being put in hospitals #2, #3, #4, #6, #10 and, of course, in the infectious diseases hospital that has taken the brunt,” the woman says.

The hospital she works at is still operating in a normal mode, but the situation may change at any moment:

“We are sitting on a volcano and waiting. We had an inspection visit from the [Health] ministry, they told us plainly that some people [infected with the coronavirus] would be transferred to our hospital.”

Majority of Belarusians will get infected, Belarusian medics claim in video message

With every passing day, more and more Belarusian health workers contract the coronavirus, the interviewee claims. On April 4-5, there was an outbreak in hospital #3; 17 persons were tested positive for COVID-19, five of them are medical staff, including a resuscitator. Three hospital buildings have been reassigned for the infected with the coronavirus; all nine floors of hospital #10 are closed for ‘ordinary’ patients, she states.

“The cardiology and ophthalmology units are being repurposed. What is there to say? Even resuscitation and operating rooms have been converted to wards,” Katsyaryna says.

If her words are anything to go by, Minsk doctors are being transferred from one hospital to another due to the shortage of specialists; moreover, the Health Ministry intentionally underreports:

“My colleagues and I think that the incidence of the disease is at least four times more [than the number reported by the ministry]. In theory, there can be two negative tests, but the third result would have been positive. But a person can simply die shy of taking this third test from them! And statistically, their case will fall into the category ‘died of pneumonia, not the coronavirus’.

In her opinion, the epidemic has not reached its peak in Belarus. According to the health professional, there will be more coronavirus cases and deaths, almost everyone may get sick. The doctor backs the idea of introducing quarantine measures; even now self-isolation would help slow the spread of the virus throughout the country, Katsyaryna believes.

150K Belarusians demand quarantine, seek WHO’s support

“If fines were imposed, no one would go out. And now we see the streets are full of people, there are crowds in shops. Of course, quarantine should have been enforced earlier, but even now such step would help. Belarusian doctors treat coronavirus patients in accordance with the protocol, i.e. they use the same medicines as their Italian, Chinese, Spanish colleagues do. Therefore, it is wrong to say that our doctors do not know how to cure or that they neglect precautionary measures. How can doctors protect themrselves when they have two respirators for the entire intensive care team?”

As of April 7, the number of the infected with COVID-19 has totalled to 861 in Belarus; 13 persons have died of it, the Health Ministry reports.

The Belarusian Council of Ministers states the authorities are taking measures to prevent and spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. In particular, the government bound the arrivals from abroad to self-isolate for 14 days. At the same time, the Health Ministry is still refraining from recommendations to impose quarantine measures on educational institutions due to ‘inexpedience’. However, the spring school holidays were extended for a week.

On April 3, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that the introduction of tough quarantine measures and placing a curfew would not improve the coronavirus situation in Belarus. Previously, the Belarusian leader promised that despite the coronavirus, no festivities on the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War would be canceled. With hundreds of fans in the stands, sports competitions were held.

Son of COVID-19 victim accuses Lukashenka of her death