The founder of a charity that supports an orphanage for children with developmental disabilities in Belarus says it is a “shattering blow” that coronavirus has spread to the facility.
The Vesnova orphanage in the central Hlusk district is home to about 170 children and young adults with severe disabilities and weak immune systems.
Local authorities confirmed the infections on April 24 but didn’t say how many people had been infected. The BBC reported on April 25 that the number of cases is 23, including 13 children.
The orphanage is financially supported by Irish charity Chernobyl Children International. Its founder, Adi Roche, says the children are extremely at risk as they have severe disabilities with a low immunity and a number of genetic disorders.
"Their chances of survival would be very poor," she told Irish Public broadcaster RTE on April 23.
Roche said the orphanage had taken measures to try to protect the children but faced difficulties as they live in close conditions.
"There are no painkillers, no cough bottles. We are really worried and we feel we cannot abandon the children," she told RTE.
The first case of the virus was found in one of the employees at the orphanage, according to the authorities of the Mogilev region, where the orphanage is located. Since then all employees and residents have been tested.
"Some have received positive test results. At present, most of them have no symptoms of the disease," said a statement from the Executive Committee of the Mogilev region.
In an effort to contain the disease, employees have started working in shifts, contacts between different groups of children have been stopped, and visits prohibited, the committee said.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has not closed borders or imposed strict lockdown measures.
On April 25, he joined thousands of Belarusians in a government-decreed day of civic labor. Citizens working in groups planted trees and cleaned parks and streets as part of an annual event that dates back to the communist period.
Lukashenka, who has derided global concerns over COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has repeatedly dismissed concerns about the dangers of the virus.
He has claimed humans’ disregard for the environment was in part to blame for the spread of the virus and activities like planting trees could help defend against it.
There have been 9,590 confirmed coronavirus cases in Belarus, with 67 deaths in total, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.