Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has resisted the coronavirus-related lockdowns imposed in most countries and suggested drinking vodka can treat the virus, said Tuesday that he has had and recovered from COVID-19.
"Today you are meeting a man who managed to survive the coronavirus on his feet. This is what doctors concluded yesterday. Asymptomatic," Lukashenko said, claiming without citing a source that “97 percent of our population carry this infection asymptomatically,” according to Reuters.
Lukashenko, whose handling of the virus has led to mass protests ahead of the country’s Aug. 9 presidential election, has previously said fears of the virus are a “psychosis.”
Asked in March whether the pandemic would stop him from playing ice hockey, he responded “To stop me? But why? It is possible, but why? I don't understand. There are no viruses here. Did you see any of them flying around? I don't see them."
In April, Lukashenko defended his decision to keep national borders open and allow soccer matches to continue with live audiences, claiming no Belarusians would die from the virus. Since then, 543 people have died and 67,366 people have tested positive for the virus.
Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994, also said Tuesday that the police deployed against protesters should “under no circumstances … create provocations,” but told the riot police chief he “also should not allow [demonstrators] to insult the guys.”
Human rights groups say at least 1,100 people have been detained since the unrest began, among them two of Lukashenko’s rival candidates. Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, the wife of candidate Siarhei Tsikhanouski, has campaigned on her husband’s behalf since his arrest and become a major figure in the demonstrations.
"The authorities hope that the display of muscle and threats” such as the drills Lukashenko oversaw “will keep people from going out into the streets," political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky told Reuters.