On Oct. 29, authorities in Belarus announced that they were closing the country's land borders with Poland, Ukraine, Latvia, and Lithuania. The stated reason for the measure is to combat coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The only land border that will remain open is the nation's frontier with Russia. Authorities have also stated that the newly implemented restrictions will not impact operations at Minsk National Airport (MSQ), the country's main international airport.
Additionally, a number of transport and business restrictions remain in effect indefinitely in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 as of Oct. 29. Authorities have imposed a mandatory 14-day self-isolation regime for travelers from countries where COVID-19 is actively circulating and for those who have had close contact with persons who test positive for the virus; freight transporters, aircrew members, and diplomats are exempt. The following additional measures are also in force:
- Restaurants and cafes must place tables at least 1.5 meters (6 feet) apart.
- Hotels must instruct guests to take their temperatures daily.
- Employers must ensure that sick employees do not go to work.
- Facemasks are required at Minsk International Airport on all Belavia (B2) flights.
International airports in the country remain open but are operating on reduced flight schedules.
Authorities in Belarus may broaden, amend, or lift these restrictions with little-to-no notice.
Background and Analysis
In all likelihood, the Oct. 29 border closure is related more to the wave of anti-government unrest that is taking place across Belarus than it is to the COVID-19 pandemic. Large demonstrations and general strikes have been occurring nationwide since the country's Aug. 9 presidential elections; opposition groups assert that President Alexander Lukashenko rigged the polls and are demanding his ouster. The government in Minsk has accused Poland and Latvia of fueling the protests and providing oppositionists with support and guidance; Warsaw and Vilnius have regularly criticized Lukashenko and the manner in which his government has been responding to the nationwide protests. The border closure occurred very suddenly, reportedly even surprising some customs service officials; moreover, the move comes on the same day that Lukashenko appointed a new interior minister with orders to restore order in the country. Restrictions directly related to COVID-19 which had been implemented by Belarus have largely been more lenient than those imposed by other nations in the region.
Follow all official instructions. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm all travel arrangements. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Plan for queues and delays at available shopping centers.
Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.