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WHO expert mission to Belarus recommends physical

WHO expert mission to Belarus recommends physical distancing measures as COVID-19 virus transmits in the community

As the COVID-19 outbreak in Belarus enters the community transmission phase, the country needs to introduce community-wide steps to increase physical distancing, according to the recommendations of a team of WHO experts at the end of its assessment of the country’s response to the pandemic.

The number of reported COVID-19 cases in Belarus is growing rapidly, with 6264 cases reported as of 20 April. The government has already implemented containment measures – testing suspect cases, tracing their contacts and isolating the sick. It has also placed emphasis on increasing capacity to manage the surge in COVID-19 patients, while continuing with essential health services for chronic diseases, maternal health and mental health. With community transmission established, it is important to complement these interventions with physical distancing measures.

Community measures to build extra capacity

“Community-wide public health measures that include physical distancing can help prevent and slow down the spread of the virus,” said Dr Patrick O’Connor, leader of the expert team to Belarus, speaking to journalists at the end of their 3-day mission. “Health-care facilities can use the time to equip themselves with appropriate capacity in terms of health-care workers, beds, isolation wards, intensive care units and protective equipment to deal with the increase in the number of cases.”

Physical distancing measures refer to:

  • postponing large gatherings, including sports, religious and cultural events;
  • placing in quarantine contacts of confirmed patients and people potentially exposed to the virus;
  • introducing options for teleworking, and distance learning for schools, universities and other educational institutions, and suspending nonessential business;
  • reducing nonessential movements, especially for high-risk groups.

Dr O’Connor commended the government for repurposing private and public sector capacity to locally produce protective equipment for health-care workers. “This is very much needed in countries across the European Region and the globe, and the attention Belarus is placing on this critical issue is indeed remarkable,” he observed. “With each country mission conducted, we in WHO are learning how to better respond to COVID-19, and this mission will also help us to assist other countries.”

The team of experts on mission to Belarus also recommended:

  • strong government commitment and leadership to implement a blend of containment and mitigation measures;
  • public engagement by all levels of government to clearly, transparently and regularly communicate the risks, health advice and response measures, including postponing gatherings and curtailing movement;
  • continuation of essential health services and socioeconomic support for those in need, especially the most vulnerable.

Technical guidance and cross-sectoral collaboration

The WHO expert team travelled to Belarus last week to support the Ministry of Health in preparing the country for its COVID-19 response. They visited health-care facilities, public health centres, laboratories and emergency centres at the national, regional and city levels to understand the transmission patterns of the virus, and recommend actions to control the outbreak.

The experts provided the Belarusian authorities with guidance on epidemiology and surveillance, laboratory services, patient management, infection prevention and control, and risk communication. They also met with representatives of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection to discuss cross-sectoral collaboration in responding to the pandemic.


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