The situation in a Belarus orphanage for children with developmental disabilities is "extremely critical" after at least 23 people contracted COVID-19, a charity has warned.
The orphanage in Vesnova, some 175 kms from Chernobyl, cares for 174 children and young adults with genetic disorders, severe disabilities and compromised immune systems. It is supported by Adi Roche Chernobyl Children, an Irish NGO.
According to the charity, the situation is now "extremely critical" after 13 children and 10 members of staff contracted COVID-19.
The orphanage is appealing for "urgently needed painkillers, cough bottles and sanitising agents" as well as personal protection equipment and financial donations.
"This is a shattering blow to all of the Irish people who have been involved in the development of Vesnova Orphanage over the past 20 years and we are extremely worried that we may lose children whose lives we have been working desperately to improve over many years," Adi Roche said in a statement.
The country has, as of Sunday, recorded more than 10,400 cases of the virus and 72 deaths.
The authorities were slow to respond to the pandemic with President Alexander Lukashenko dismissing the pandemic as a "mass psychosis" and advising people to drink more vodka, "turn the steam on the bathhouse", "eat more garlic" and "sit behind the wheel of the tractor in the fields" to protect themselves.
Large gatherings have not been banned and the country's top-flight football league is the only one still playing in Europe.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) called on the government earlier this week to reduce non-essential movements, postpone large gatherings "including sports, religious and cultural events" and toughen up social distancing measures.
It also recommended "public engagement by all level of government to clearly, transparently ad regularly communicate the risks, health advice and response measures".