In last month’s newsletter, we reported on the collaborative effort to bring 2 tonnes of Matzah from Ukraine to Belarus just as they were closing the borders as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. At that time, there were few cases of reported infections in Belarus, and as Ukraine went into lockdown, Belarus continued to operate as normal. Government advice was issued in Belarus with recommendations for the elderly and vulnerable to stay home, and for people to try to exercise social distancing, wash hands regularly and use hand sanitiser. This is still the situation in Belarus, as numbers of reported cases rise as do the numbers of deaths. Needless to say, this makes staying safe highly fraught and complicated when everyone is going about their normal daily business. Masks and gloves are now being worn by many, but sadly, as we know, this is inadequate protection.
We have been in contact with the British Ambassador in Belarus, Jacky Perkins, who updated us with news that according to the WHO, Belarus moved very quickly to start testing, contact-tracing and isolating possible carriers of the virus. First degree contacts were isolated under medical supervision rather than simply being asked to self-isolate, and the WHO judged that these measures had greatly reduced the transmission of the virus in Belarus. Ambassador Perkins told us that the decision by the government not to impose self-isolation measures has come in for criticism but said that for now the WHO supports the approach in Belarus: and that thanks to the aggressive testing policy, the WHO does not consider a lockdown justified yet. If Belarus locked down prematurely, the lockdown would need to last longer than either the economy or individuals, could be expected to endure. And if lockdown ended too soon, there would be a further flare-up. The WHO advised stricter isolation only when local transmission was happening. In the meantime, we continue to watch to see if that local transmission reaches a point where a lockdown becomes inevitable.
In this climate, our team in Minsk faced the task of distributing the 2 tonnes of matzah to communities all over Belarus in time for Pesach. It was a mighty task and the team worked tirelessly to ensure the job was done and done safely. Click here for a video of Matzah being delivered to Frida Reizman, Chair of the Minsk Ghetto Survivors’ Association. Volunteers from the communities we work with distributed the matzah to elderly and vulnerable members of the community, which in itself is a great achievement. When we first started working with communities in Belarus, everyone wanted to receive and it was unheard of to give and to volunteer. We are proud and excited to see people stepping up, experiencing the virtues and value of volunteering. It is real progress towards community building and empowerment.
Photos here of the matzah being labelled, distributed and received throughout Belarus: