Cumulative Cases: 3860
Active Cases: 2218
Two Ministers Tested for COVID-19
Suren Papikyan, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure and Arsen Torosyan, the Minister of Health, were tested for COVID-19 and the results came back negative. In a Facebook post, Torosyan said that he has no complaints and he will further minimize his personal contact so as not to put anyone at risk. Papikyan is in self-isolation and will continue working remotely.
Special Session of the National Assembly
Following the Government’s decision to extend the State of Emergency (SOE) for one more month (until 5 p.m. on June 13), the National Assembly held a special session to discuss the decision. Tigran Avinyan, the Warden of the Special Commission, presented the Government’s proposal to the Parliament. Avinyan presented the Government’s actions aimed at containing the spread of the virus and the strategy moving forward. Speaking about the dynamics of the spread of the virus since March 1, Avinyan noted that, in March and April, when restrictions on movement and economic activities were in place, the number of confirmed cases remained quite consistent. That changed in the beginning of May, when some of the restrictions were lifted and the testing capacity increased.
Avinyan briefly presented the government’s efforts to date. He explained that, until March 22, the Special Commission primarily worked to identify infected people, hospitalize them, identify the circle of people that they came in contact with, and isolate them. During the second stage, which lasted until the end of March, the Commission first introduced certain restrictions on movement and economic activities. It was also during this stage that the government started expanding the capacity of the healthcare system (various medical supplies and equipment were imported). During the third stage, which lasted from April 1 until the end of the month, restrictions were tightened further. The decision to start easing restrictions on May 4 was due to increasing socio-economic problems and the spare capacity of the healthcare system to effectively fight the virus.
Avinyan also spoke about the achievements registered during the past two and a half months, as well as the lessons learned. He mentioned the increased testing capacity (up to 1,000 tests are being conducted daily), the increased bed capacity, training of healthcare workers, and the establishment of diagnostic laboratories. Avinyan presented the strategy moving forward. According to him, as of May 18:
- Public transportation will being operating
- Kindergartens and preschools will reopen
- All restaurants/cafes will be able to serve customers in their indoor seating areas
- All retail outlets will reopen
As of May 18, wearing masks outdoors and indoors and on public transport will be mandatory; all those violating this regulation will be fined by police. Avinyan also said that parliamentarians and government members will also be required to wear masks to serve as an example to citizens.
Avinyan also said that a third flight bringing medical supplies and equipment from China is being organized. The flight is being realized by Armenia’s Ministry of Defense through the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Regular flights from Russia will resume on May 15, allowing Armenian citizens to return. Since March 13, more than 2,000 citizens have returned from Russia thanks to the government’s efforts.
Government Extends State of Emergency
During the Government session, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan touched on the recent uptick in new cases, which have exceeded 100 per day. Speaking about the reasons for the rapid spread of the virus, Pashinyan mentioned the widespread belief among citizens that the pandemic is made up. The PM explained that more than 70% of patients who test positive for the virus are asymptomatic. While they are kept in isolation, sometimes they do not even believe that they are infected, unless they have an infected family member with more severe symptoms. Currently, only six of the infected patients are on ventilators.
Speaking about the Government’s strategy, Pashinyan noted that, moving forward, their goal will not be to impose more restrictions, but rather to ensure that people follow safety rules and regulations during the State of Emergency (SOE). The restrictions that were introduced when the SOE was initially announced on March 16 ensured that the Government had sufficient time to expand hospital capacity. Pashinyan explained that, according to calculations made in March, the government was expecting to have more than 10,000 deaths within the first month, if the situation progressed as it did in Italy. Pashinyan said that, although the Government’s strategy is not to introduce restrictions because of the uncertainties that still persist, the Government cannot entirely exclude that scenario. Pashinyan went on to say that restrictions will be re-introduced if the Government approaches the point when it no longer has the capacity needed to treat symptomatic patients.
Pashinyan repeated a point he had made a week prior that the country will be moving to a decentralized approach to fighting the virus. The PM clarified that this approach means that, in addition to official government action, each citizen should take on individual responsibility. Pashinyan once again reaffirmed that everyone can avoid being infected with the virus and infecting others, if they follow simple rules. He went on to remind about the three basic rules that can halt spread of the virus, and urged citizens to practice social distancing or wear face masks, avoid touching their face, and use only disinfected dishes and cutlery.
Rustam Badasyan, the Minister of Justice, said that the evidence presented by Pashinyan as well as the fact that number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 keep increasing, are sufficient to extend the SOE (introduced on March 16 and extended to May 14) for thirty more days, until 5 p.m. on June 13, 2020. The Government voted in favor of the decision. Two reasons that PM Pashinyan mentioned for extending the SOE was that it is only during the SOE that the Special Commission can continue its operations and certain communities can be placed under temporary lockdown. Pashinyan mentioned that the Police will be tasked with ensuring that the decisions of the Special Commission are strictly enforced and that citizens closely follow the introduced rules.
Badasyan noted that the legislative changes that were made [the Government decision on extending the SOE] will clarify the status of the Warden, Special Commission, as well as the decisions adopted by the Special Commission. The new decision also allows one person to take a package to inmates (the delivery of packages to prisons was prohibited during the SOE).
Update on the Number of Cases
The Ministry of Health reported that 142 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Armenia with 72 recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 3,860, of which 2,218 are active cases and 1,572 have recovered. An 81-year-old patient, who had pre-existing health conditions, died within the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 49. In total, 36,016 tests have been conducted. Deputy Minister of Health Lena Nanushyan said that of the active cases, 66 patients are in serious condition and 33 are in critical condition. There are 660 patients with pneumonia and six patients are on ventilators.