Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky revealed in an interview on Tuesday that he considered infecting himself with the Chinese coronavirus intentionally to prove that it was not as serious an illness as many people feared.
Speaking with Ukrainian Pravda, the comedian turned world leader argued his idea may be an effective way of reducing concern and depression among the population.
“I wanted to go through this stage myself. To make sure people perceive it less stressfully,” said Zelensky. “When we had a moment of depression, we gathered. I suggested the team: ‘Let me get infected and be immediately isolated on Bankova [The Office of the President]. And I’ll get through this alright.’ So that people understand it really is scary, you can get sick, you do feel bad. And I will let this go through me and show them.”
“But at the same time, people will understand that it’s no plague,” he continued. “That’s to make sure they aren’t depressed. At the very onset, there was a very scary moment when people thought we would all die.”
Zelensky eventually decided against the idea because of the disapproval of his family and the possibility that Ukrainians may think he is crazy.
“We decided it was too much,” he admitted. “They would say I’m crazy. And they’d be right, actually.”
Despite his skepticism at the severity of the virus, Zelensky implemented lockdown measures aimed at containing the virus in March and has only recently begun to ease restrictions with the resumption of international flights, the re-opening of various public services, and the return of sporting events.
The quarantine measures were unpopular with a large number of Ukrainians, who pointed out the devastating economic impact on a country that already has high rates of poverty. Last month, business owners in the capital Kyiv organized a mass demonstration featuring a caravan of 50 cars demanding the government ease mobility and business restrictions because their livelihoods were being destroyed.
According to the latest statistics, Ukrainian authorities have recorded nearly 28,000 cases of the coronavirus and 810 deaths. With a population of 42 million, this places the country’s infection rate roughly in the middle of the number of cases per million people, and well below that of neighboring Russia, which after Brazil and the United States remains the most badly hit nation on earth with over 485,000 confirmed cases.
Writing in The New York Times last month about his first year as president, Zelensky insisted the pandemic had given him optimism about the efficacy of international cooperation.
“Ukraine has had more than 19,000 Covid-19 cases and, sadly, nearly 600 deaths. We have been forced to restructure our budget planning to cope with the global economic crash,” he wrote at the time. “But it’s not all doom and gloom. The silver lining that gives me hope amid all of these crises has been the same thing: international cooperation. It has been and will continue to be the way forward.”