MINSK -- Belarus will close several land-border crossings as of December 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that will limit the movement of people at a time when the country is being rocked by protests over authoritarian Alyaksandr Lukashenka's claim of victory in a disputed presidential election.
The national Internet portal for legal information on December 10 published a government resolution adopted earlier in the week, saying the measures, which include a ban on Belarusians travelling unless their trip is related to work or study, will take force 10 days after publication of the notice.
It is not clear how long the restrictions will be in place.
Belarus has since been hit by near-daily protests demanding Lukashenka resign, the release of all political prisoners, and a new election.
Security forces have violently cracked down on the protest movement, with more than 27,000 detentions, according to the United Nations. There have also been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment, and several people have died.
Opposition leaders, who say the August 9 election was rigged, immediately accused Lukashenka of using the COVID-19 measures as an excuse to impose restrictions on the movements of activists.
"Lukashenka closes inner borders of #Belarus because of Covid. Let's be honest: the dictator just terrorizes the country & violates human rights on [a] daily basis," opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who says she won the presidential poll, wrote on Twitter on December 10.
"He didn't care about covid before. Now repressed Belarusians cannot flee and seek asylum abroad."
The resolution orders "temporarily suspending the crossing of the state border of the Republic of Belarus for departure from the Republic of Belarus of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, as well as foreigners who have a permit for permanent or temporary residence in the Republic of Belarus."
Restrictions will apply at all road, railway, and river checkpoints along the country's borders. The ban does not apply to people with diplomatic and service passports, members of official delegations, drivers of international road transportation units, crews of aircraft and ships, train crews, individuals on business trips and some other categories of people.
Departure from the country will be also allowed once every six months for Belarusian citizens who are permanent residents of foreign countries or need to leave the country due to illness or the death of a close relative abroad, as well as for educational, employment, or medical purposes.
According to the resolution, when entering the country, foreign nationals will have to present test results proving that they are not infected with the coronavirus.
Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, has denied the accusations of election fraud and refuses to negotiate with the opposition.
The United States and European Union have both rejected the election results and have imposed sanctions on Belarus, as well as Lukashenka, over the issue.
As of December 10, the number of registered coronavirus cases in Belarus was 152,453, including 1,230 deaths and 129,950 recovered patients.