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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Marching to a different tune, on Victory Day in Minsk. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty

Belarus is now grappling with one of Europe's highest per capita coronavirus infection rates, even as President Alexander Lukashenko plays down the danger.

The big picture: Belarus, a country of about 9.5 million people where most live in urban centers, has been run by Lukashenko since 1994. He says a lockdown would be ineffective, unjustified and bad for business and society.

  • Cafes and bars are still open, the football league is going ahead and on April 25, around 25 percent of the population took part in a "community work day," including the president himself. An August 9 presidential election looks set to be held.
  • In March, Lukashenko said: "People should not only wash their hands with vodka but also poison the virus with it."
  • Lukashenko rejected calls to cancel a military parade on Sunday celebrating the 75th anniversary of victory in World War II.

Fearing a worse outbreak and with poor expectations of the authorities, many Belarusians are taking it upon themselves to try and contain the virus and help others.

  • Most of Nadia Lyudchik's time is now spent coordinating hundreds of volunteers to ensure that masks and other safety equipment get delivered to hospitals and health workers across the country.
  • She is part of an informal structure called ByCovid-19 created at the end of March and is constantly switching between apps from Telegram to Hangout, from Facebook to Trello, to keep in touch with regional groups and respond to requests.
  • "Belarusians tend to be passive. I had never seen such a coordinating effort around one goal in Belarus, it's impressive," she said in a phone interview.

What to watch: "I'm afraid the situation in Belarus could look like Italy," said Alexey, a psychologist based in Minsk. "As long as there won't be any lockdown, people will have to go to work. Otherwise, they can be fired."

Go deeper: Read the full report on Al Jazeera

Go deeper

Aug 18, 2020 - Health

Birx: "I wish that when we went into lockdown, we looked like Italy"

Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, speaks after a June briefing in Washington, D.C. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters Monday she would have liked to have seen the U.S. introduce stricter restrictions like Italy did to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What she's saying: "I wish that when we went into lockdown, we looked like Italy," she said. "When Italy locked down, I mean, people weren't allowed out of their houses, they couldn't come out but once every two weeks to buy groceries for one hour and they had to have a certificate that said they were allowed. Americans don't react well to that kind of prohibition."

Scoop: Border officials project 13,000 child migrants in May

The "El Chaparral" border crossing at Tijuana. Photo: Stringer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

A Customs and Border Protection staffer told top administration officials Thursday the agency is projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May, sources directly familiar with the discussion told Axios.

Why it matters: That projection would exceed the height of the 2019 crisis, which led to the infamous "kids-in-cages" disaster. It also underscores a rapidly escalating crisis for the Biden administration.

3 hours ago - World

U.S. strikes Iran-backed militia facilities in Syria

President Biden at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. Photo: Alex Brandon - Pool/Getty Images

The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.

The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

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