Cumulative Cases: 937
Active Cases: 776
New Cases in Artsakh
Artsakh’s Ministry of Health has confirmed another two cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to five.
One of the patients is a family member of an earlier confirmed case from the Mirik community in Artsakh; the patient’s health is satisfactory. The second patient is a resident of the city of Karvajar in the Shahumyan region. The patient (born 1951) is in stable condition but has a number of pre-existing health issues and is under the supervision of doctors at the Republican Hospital. The patient’s family members have been in self-isolation for the past three days and under the supervision of doctors. Contact tracing is underway.
Protection of Economic Competition
During a press conference, Gegham Gevorgyan, the Chairman of the State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition, provided updates on the ongoing monitoring activities conducted by the Committee.
Gevorgyan started with the merger application submitted by VEON Armenia and UCOM back in 2019 and said that the Commission reviewed over 600 documents and held discussions with both sides. But considering the current State of Emergency (SOE), the Commission has temporarily suspended its discussions regarding the merger of two major telecommunication operators. Gevorgyan went on to say that the Commission has not yet finalized its assessment and that there is no final decision regarding the merger.
Gevorgyan noted that the Commission continues monitoring various product markets throughout the country. He noted that their assessment has not shown a shortage of products among the major producers or supermarkets. The monitoring also showed that, although the prices of certain products started decreasing in the past two days, they are still higher compared to prices registered at the end of February (the Commission started its monitoring on February 26). However, with locally-produced agricultural products, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, prices are considerably lower compared to those registered in February. As of April 5, the price of one kilogram of flour has decreased from 290 AMD to 285 AMD (the initial price was 275 AMD). But despite the fluctuations, the price of bread in major supermarkets has not changed. Gevorgyan explained that not all the price increases were the immediate results of COVID-19 and that, in certain cases, it was because of the fluctuations of foreign currencies or problems with cargo transportation.
Earlier, Gevorgyan also reported that the Commission compared the prices of certain products within the same period of 2018 and 2020 to understand the dynamics of the registered changes. They analyzed the price of products like sugar, butter and eggs, which showed that, with increased competition, the prices of certain products have decreased in general. Gevorgyan did not exclude that certain business entities may try to use the current situation and unreasonably increase the prices of some products.
Speaking about the fluctuation in the price of eggs, Gevorgyan noted the Commission was closely following the situation since the market price of eggs was below its cost. Gevorgyan said that complaints were submitted to the Commission by smaller egg-producing companies but that the situation is stabilizing now. Although lower prices are in everyone’s interest, Gevorgyan stressed that they still need to be economically justifiable. Earlier, the Commission adopted a decision which states that violating the legislation on the Protection of Economic Competition during the state of emergency will be more strictly punished.
Press Conference: COVID-19 Update by Health Minister
Armenia’s Health Minister Arsen Torosyan gave a press conference to provide an update on the COVID-19 situation in Armenia.
The Minister said that the number of confirmed cases has started to reduce thanks to the state of emergency and the restriction on movement, This, however, does not mean that “we have to loosen restrictions or feel reassured that the worst is behind us, this is not true.” Torosyan said while Armenia does have lower numbers now, the number of sources has increased. Recently confirmed cases have a wide geographic spread, indicating that community spread is continuing and restrictions are still needed. Torosyan also said that the virus has a long incubation period and therefore it is still too early to make assumptions. Ongoing activities such as discovering patients, testing, treating and isolating contact circles needs to continue and be implemented more widely. Until there is a cure for the virus or a vaccine, Torosyan said Armenia needs to make sure the situation is controllable, meaning the healthcare system remains capable of taking care of patients. The Minister said it will truly be a crisis if the number of confirmed cases becomes too much for the health system to handle.
While 80 percent of COVID-19 patients do not need treatment in hospitals and many countries have adopted the policy of leaving such patients to recover at home, Armenia is not following that system just yet, the Minister said. Patients with no symptoms do not require medicine and so there is no need to panic about a medication shortage. “Light cases also do not need any specific treatment other than the occasional painkiller, something to bring down the patient’s temperature and a lot of liquids,” he said. Authorities are doing everything to avoid reaching a point where infected patients will be left to recover at home. If that happens, there will be more specific instructions by the Ministry of Health.
Torosyan said medical staff who are involved in the fight against coronavirus are being paid more than their set salaries. The additional pay is funded by the state and through donations to a special account earmarked for healthcare workers. About 1,700 medical staff are on the frontlines in the fight against the virus at nine main health facilities as well as ambulance workers, first responders and health professionals at border checkpoints.
Armenia also recently added children to its list of at-risk groups. Torosyan said the change was made following the WHO’s recommendation after a rise in child fatalities from the virus globally. Torosyan said it is still true that children are affected far less and international records show that no healthy children have died from the virus. Regardless, they will be more alert toward the health of children, especially those who are undergoing chemotherapy or have immunodeficiency.
Torosyan said the Health Ministry’s recommendation to the Government is to extend the state of emergency.
So far, about 6,500 tests have been carried out. Torosyan said Armenia has followed international recommendations as to how many tests need to be carried out per day per capita. Still, Armenia has decided to widen the scope of testing and more will be conducted on a daily basis starting today. Torosyan said the goal is to reach up to 1,000 tests per day. The number of tests is also dependent on the epidemiological situation in the country. Torosyan said he would like to use this opportunity to explain to the public how the tests are conducted, and why not every facility can process these tests.
Tests for viral infections are some of the most complicated and multilayered tests and require the involvement of several professionals. They also take longer; around five hours are needed only in the laboratory to process a result. The lab should meet all the highest standards of safety requirements to make sure there is no viral spread in the lab. There are only six such laboratories under the purview of the Ministry and an additional two private laboratories, which starting today have become part of the testing process. The harvesting of the samples also needs to be done correctly and by highly-qualified professionals to avoid inaccurate results. Special containers with ice are required for the transportation of the sample and the logistical cycle of the testing process needs to be appropriately coordinated. Torosyan said people should not think this is a simple blood test. Countries with health systems similar to Armenia’s usually give results in 48 hours. Armenia is able to return results in 10 hours, with most within 24 hours. Torosyan said labs in Armenia have been working around the clock, but this is problematic as it can increase the number of mistakes. The work schedules of the labs need to be reconsidered, said Torosyan.
Asked if the situation is under control, Torosyan said: “If we are talking about giving the patients proper attention and treatment, then yes, the situation is under control, we even still have reserve beds to take on more patients. But this does not mean we are ready to return to our ‘normal’ way of living. This is something all of us should internally accept. Even if the state of emergency is lifted, it still would not mean a return to our former rhythm of life.”
Torosyan said the average age of COVID-19 fatalities in Armenia is 75.
Regarding the situation in Artsakh, Torosyan said they are in constant communication with the Health Ministry of the Republic of Artsakh and are offering methodological, material and testing assistance to Artsakh, which is taking the necessary measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Torosyan said, following international recommendations, autopsies have not been carried out on any of those who have died after contracting COVID-19. Following the legislative amendment, there should soon be a specialized morgue for confirmed COVID-19 patients who pass away as well as for post-mortem confirmation of the disease in case of doubt.
Torosyan said the daily updates mean the Ministry is sharing with the public all the information it has on new cases, deaths and recoveries. The data collection process is currently automated, and has entries about every single person tested (whether they are Armenian citizens or not), the results of the test, deaths and recoveries. Torosyan said this does not mean the Ministry has discovered and diagnosed every single case of infection in the country.
Update on Numbers
According to the Ministry of Health, Armenia has 16 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 937; eleven patients have recovered, bringing the total number of recovered to 149. A 72-year-old patient with double pneumonia (in both lungs) and pre-existing health conditions passed away and later in the day, another COVID-19 patient passed, bringing the total to 12 deaths in Armenia.
Return of Armenian Students
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that 35 Armenian high school students studying in the U.S. as part of the FLEX exchange program will be returning to Armenia through a special flight via Chicago and Doha. The students were spread out between 19 different states. They will be subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. 79 students from Georgia will be on the same transatlantic flight.