Why Have Belarus and Other Eastern European Countries Seen Relatively Few COVID-19 Deaths?
Belarus, whose autocratic president has barely acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic, let alone imposed a lockdown in response to it, nevertheless has seen fewer COVID-19 deaths per capita than most European countries. A recent BMJ article suggests several possible explanations, including the country’s unpopularity as a vacation destination, high levels of testing in the early months of the epidemic, a large hospital capacity that made isolating COVID-19 patients easier, few nursing homes, and widespread voluntary precautions such as social distancing and mask wearing. While those hypotheses seem plausible, they do not necessarily explain trends in other Eastern European countries that, like Belarus, have seen relatively few COVID-19 deaths.
According to Worldometer’s tallies, the current COVID-19 death rate in Belarus is 84 per 1 million people, less than one-tenth the rate in Belgium, about one-eighth the rate in Spain, and about one-seventh the rate in the U.K. But several other Central and Eastern European countries have similarly low rates, including Serbia (85 per million), Ukraine (83), Hungary (72), Slovenia (68) Croatia (62), Poland (61), the Czech Republic (49), and Estonia (48). Unlike Belarus, all of those countries imposed broad social and economic restrictions last spring in an attempt to reduce virus transmission.
Trends in newly identified COVID-19 cases vary widely among these countries:
• In Belarus, the seven-day average peaked in mid-May and has since fallen by 77 percent.
• In Serbia, there was an early peak in April, followed by a decline until early June, then an ascent to a new, higher peak in late July. Since then the seven-day average has fallen by 83 percent.
• Ukraine is seeing more daily new cases than ever before, following a rise that began in late July.
• In Hungary, daily n
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