While Covid-19 brings the Belarusian healthcare system to the verge of collapse, the authorities increase repression against clerics to restrain religious organisations

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By Zmicier Kuchlej

Under intense pressure from the raging coronavirus pandemic and deprived of additional civil society resources, Belarusian healthcare is struggling to cope and has significantly reduced state-guaranteed medical services. Meanwhile, the state continues to revise the social contract, aiming to reduce pension guarantees and shorten maternity leave and intensifies coercion of the Church repress clerics who denounce state violence.

The public healthcare system is under enormous pressure, malfunctioning and struggling to cope with the Covid-19 epidemic. Healthcare facilities in Minsk have suspended all planned medical services.

Meanwhile, Belarus’ senior leadership continues to rely on the administrative resource: last week, Lukashenka visited a hospital in Vitsebsk, a region among most severely affected by the pandemic to praise doctors and ‘cheer up’ patients. Medical students are being recruited fulltime to fight the coronavirus. Despite all that, the authorities have not revised their attitude towards civil society actors whose efforts reduced the impact from the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak in the spring this year.

Halauchenka’s government has announced plans to reduce pension guarantees for the population and implement pension reforms. Amid falling popular support for public institutions and deteriorating public administration, such radical revision of the social contract with the population is likely to increase tension in society.

Simultaneously, Belarus’ public debt has increased by November 1st to BYN 57.9 billion rubles (+ 29.3% from the beginning of the year), and inflation accelerated.

Security officials continued to exert pressure on priests who condemned the violence, regardless of their confession. In Ivatsevichi, Greek Catholic priest Father Vitaly Bystrov was sentenced to 10 days of arrest and a Catholic priest from Rossony was sentenced to 10 days in jail for sharing a politically sensitive piece of artwork in his social media account.

The authorities are likely to step up their efforts in tracking and penalizing dissenters, which will require a redistribution of public funds towards the security services and the curtailing of social guarantees for different groups.

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