The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has said he contracted coronavirus but recovered without suffering any symptoms, state-run news agency Belta reported Tuesday.
Lukashenko has repeatedly dismissed the threat posed by Covid-19, touted home remedies and refused to shut down his country, making Belarus an outlier in Europe.
“I apologize for my voice, lately I have to talk a lot. But the most surprising thing is that today you are seeing a person who managed to power through coronavirus standing on his feet,” he said during a visit to a military base, according to Belta. “Doctors made this conclusion yesterday — it was asymptomatic.”
“Like I said, 97% of our people go through this illness without symptoms and thank God I’ve managed to get into this group of asymptomatic people,” added Lukashenko, citing an unsubstantiated statistic.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in fact estimates that about 40% of people infected with Covid-19 don’t experience any symptoms.
Lukashenko added that he had “lived through this virus.”
The strongman leader has notoriously dismissed coronavirus as mass “psychosis” and recommended that citizens enjoy a traditional sauna or drink vodka “to poison the virus.” He has been widely criticized for refusing to impose strict coronavirus restrictions during the pandemic.
Lukashenko, who has ruled since 1994, has not limited his own public appearances during the pandemic and went ahead with an annual military parade in May. He has also continued to gather in-person government meetings and played hockey throughout the pandemic.
“It’s better to die standing than to live on your knees,” he said, rinkside in full hockey gear, in an interview with state television in late March.
Belarus, a country of 9.5 million people, has officially reported 67,366 cases of coronavirus and 543 deaths as of Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins Covid tracking dashboard.