MINSK (Reuters) – Thousands of Belarusians converged on churches across the country on Sunday to celebrate Easter, ignoring calls from health authorities and church leaders to stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Priests had planned to conduct services in empty churches over the Easter weekend observed by Orthodox Christians in many eastern European countries.
“The traditions of our parents, our fathers, grandfathers should be preserved. I think we did not commit any sacrilege when we arrived today. I believe that God will protect us,” said Sergey who brought some food for the traditional blessing at Minsk Cathedral. He declined to give his surname.
Belarus is one of very few countries that did not impose lockdown measures or close borders to curb the epidemic. State media ridicule fears over the new coronavirus, while the country’s president calls fears around it “mass psychosis”.
President Alexander Lukashenko said on Sunday that the authorities’ strategy was correct.
“You know my position: we survive these viruses every year,” he said.
The health ministry said on Sunday that 47 people had so far died of the coronavirus. As of Friday, the country had reported 4,779 cases.
Neighbouring Ukraine effectively banned the general public from church services by stipulating that only 10 people were allowed to be present at a service. The government has also repeatedly urged people to stay at home.
Ukraine reported 5,449 cases of coronavirus as of April 19, including 141 deaths.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)