MINSK (Reuters) - A player on the amateur ice hockey team of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has contracted the novel coronavirus, Lukashenko’s office told the RIA Novosti news agency on Tuesday.
Lukashenko has continued to play ice hockey in front of crowds of spectators in a show of defiance against calls for him to impose strict lockdown measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the eastern European country.
Lukashenko is not self-isolating and will continue to work as normal, his spokeswoman Natalia Aismont said. She did not respond to a Reuters request for further comment.
The president, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994, has repeatedly called fears about the pandemic a “psychosis” and suggested remedies like drinking vodka or taking saunas to fight the disease.
His teammate was hospitalised with what was initially believed to be pneumonia, but later “a positive test result for COVID-19 was obtained”, the spokeswoman said.
The player had told local Belarusian media outlet tut.by: “I don’t have coronavirus. Just a mild cold.”
Belarus has 6,723 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 55 deaths. Lukashenko has insisted that no-one in the country would die from COVID-19 and that any deaths that were recorded were due to underlying conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
Lukashenko plays hockey in an amateur tournament which his team won for the 11th time in April. The season has now finished.
Challenged by a journalist in late March over a decision to take part in a hockey match, he said: “There are no viruses here. Did you see any of them flying around?”
Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Ken Ferris