Today’s COVID-19 briefing with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Health Minister Arsen Torosyan and Deputy Prime Minister and Warden of the Special Commission Tigran Avinyan took place in front of the Prime Minister’s residence. Pashinyan, who had earlier in the day announced that he and his family (wife and three daughters) have tested positive for COVID-19, said they are all in self-isolation at the official residence and he will be working remotely from there. Pashinyan said that neither he nor his family have symptoms and they only found out because he gets regularly tested. This most recent test was conducted prior to a planned visit to the Republic of Artsakh. According to the Prime Minister there are an estimated 18-20 thousand people with COVID-19 in Armenia who are asymptomatic and themselves do not know that they might be infected.
Pashinyan called on the population to assume everyone they come into contact with is infected. According to the Prime Minister, data collected from police monitoring shows that many in the country are still not following safety rules. The police have issued 1,232 fines, closed down 134 businesses as raids continue. Pashiyan said he remotely resided over the session of the Special Commission in the morning and that the Commission is currently discussing strengthening the rules for wearing masks. The Commission also discussed possible changes to the State of Emergency strategy however, according to the Prime Minister, the strategy is still to do the utmost not to return to a lockdown, but much is dependent on the personal behavior of individuals.
Health Minister Arsen Torosyan
Torosyan said that 210 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Sunday [which was released today], for a total of 9,492 infected across the country. The Minister reminded everyone that they had stressed many times before, that if this pace continues, Armenia would expect to have about 10,000 cases by the end of May. “Our predictions were confirmed,” Torosyan said. The total number of deaths is 139. The Minister said that they did not conduct a large number of tests on Sunday  because most laboratories are backlogged and they need to periodically stop in order to ensure that the quality of the testing is not compromised. Torosyan said that the critical issue is the number of available beds in hospitals, in particular ICU beds, which are the most important at this stage. Currently there are 440 patients in serious condition, and 55 patients in critical condition, of whom 16 are on ventilators. The Minister said that since the number of patients in serious and critical condition is hovering around 500 people during the last several days, they are not confident there will be improvement with regard to those numbers. Everyone needs to continue following the three basic rules – wearing masks (everywhere except while eating), maintaining physical distancing (whenever possible) and regularly washing/disinfecting hands (with hot water and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizers) to help bring down those numbers.
The Minister said that mobile units from polyclinics have been conducting COVID-19 tests; initially, they were doing around 20 tests a day at homes, today those numbers have risen to 200/daily. Through this we have been able to reveal more people infected with COVID-19, Torosyan said adding that they are continually working to retrain medical staff. He noted that there have been complaints by citizens regarding the quality of care by polyclinic medical staff and that they are not trained properly to know what they are doing. He said that this is due, in part, to the fact that this is a new situation and there have been problems with preparedness. He said he is confident that they will rise to the challenge.
Speaking about the number of asymptomatic patients, Torosyan said that anyone can in fact be the source of COVID-19, and it’s almost impossible for the medical community to be able to determine whether or not they are infected and often times, these are the people who become the source of infection for others. The Health Minister said they are only revealed when someone from a vulnerable group becomes infected, becoming seriously ill and contact tracing leads to the asymptomatic person, who can be someone from their own family or a stranger.
For this reason, Torosyan stressed once again, the importance of following the safety regulations so that someone who is asymptomatic doesn’t become the cause of infecting someone else who can become seriously ill, and in some cases die.
Following Torosyan’s address, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that the Special Commission of the State of Emergency is periodically re-evaluating its strategy and that during today’s session, they decided that the strategy remains the same. In order not to return to strict restrictions or a total lockdown, which he said they are prepared to do if necessary, it is important to take personal responsibility. He asked people to take his situation as an example and that in the case of even the smallest deviation of following the rules, one can become infected.
Deputy Prime Minister, Warden of the Special Commission of the State of Emergency, Tigran Avinyan
Avinyan said the strategy of fighting COVID-19 has been designed to respond to different kinds of situations and for each stage of the transmission of the virus, even though the government has had to make adjustments. He said that there were two strategic stages in the last five months.
The first stage, which lasted until mid-April, when for about six weeks freedom of movement and economic activity was restricted. This allowed the healthcare system to expand capabilities and build up testing capacity. Both aspects are still being expanded, with efforts such as establishing production of COVID-19 tests in Armenia. Avinyan said that tomorrow the first 350 tests will be sent to the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control and noted that the Center for Molecular Biology is now capable of producing 3,000 to 5,000 tests a day, which will, in the future, be sufficient to cover Armenia’s needs.
The second strategic stage, again a period of about six weeks, which extended until the end of May, was a period when restrictions were gradually lifted, safety rules established. Avinyan said that similar to many countries, Armenia registered a hike in numbers during this second stage which remained controllable. He said they are currently working on formulating the next strategic stage for which two things will be considered: the pandemic in the country and the economy, with the possibility of returning to a lockdown as an extreme measure.
According to Avinyan, Armenia is also closely following the logic of policies and strategic plans implemented by partner countries as developing a unified approach would be helpful in matters like planning to open air travel. Avinyan also said the evaluation of the efficiency of tools used to this point will be instrumental in the approach developed moving forward.
According to Avinyan, the Special Commission will also be discussing opening the tourism industry and air communication in its upcoming sessions, which as preliminary discussion indicate, might happen in mid-July.
Anush Muradyan, Public TV: By returning asymptomatic patients to their homes for self-isolation, do you not think you are risking the health of other family members? Can there be a possibility of a return to quarantining?
Pashinyan: The state quarantined patients for as long as possible and in as much comfort as possible, but there came a point when the number of people in quarantine and positive cases was so large that it became impossible to quarantine everyone and there was no other alternative. However, most often an undetected patient is more dangerous than a confirmed patient. Many other countries never quarantined contact people and from day one often sent confirmed cases home to self-isolate.
Civilnet, Maria Yeghyazaryan: Recently you said that if we continue at the same pace, we will reach the numbers in Italy and according to parliament member Arman Babajanyan, doctors are worried that soon patients will be dying at home. Has the situation gone out of control and if yes, then what is being done to regain control again? Is the government or the Special Commission considering a lockdown?
Pashinyan: During our daily sessions of the Special Commission, the Ministry of Health updates on the progress made in regards to adding the number of ER beds. What you are describing assumes that there are no longer ER beds for patients and while the situation is tight, there is daily collaboration with different health institutions aimed at increasing the number of those beds.
Torosyan: We have already had a slight increase in recent days, and we are going to have three large additions in the future – at the Astghik ICU with an additional 20 ER beds and another 20 intensive therapy beds; the St. Gregory the Illuminator Hospital with 50 ER beds and about 45-50 ER Beds at the Erebuni Medical Center. I do not agree with Mr. Babajanyan when he says soon patients will be left to die at home. The situation is being evaluated on a daily basis and decisions are being made accordingly.
Statement by Spokesperson of Anna Hakobyan
Hasmik Harutyunyan, the spokesperson of the PM’s wife Anna Hakobyan, denied rumors that PM Nikol Pashinyan and his wife Anna Hakobyan were already infected with COVID-19 when they left for Artsakh and could have infected other people during the inauguration of Arayik Harutyunyan. Harutyunyan said that before their visit to Artsakh, all the members of the government delegation were tested for the virus and only those whose test results came back negative went to Artsakh. She went on to say that during the inauguration, Pashinyan and his wife were mostly in contact with the newly elected President and his family members. Today, Harutyunyan and his family members were also tested for COVID-19 and the results came back negative.
Monitoring of Safety Regulations
Monitoring of businesses throughout the country is continuing. According to the Armenian Unified Center, the operations of more than 30 cafes and restaurants were suspended for 24 hours; two businesses were suspended for 48 hours because of a repetition of registered violations.
Statement by Spokesperson of Prime Minister
Mane Gevorgyan, the spokesperson of the PM Nikol Pashinyan, said in a Facebook post that members of the Government and staff members of the PM’s Office will not be tested for COVID-19. She clarified that those members of Government who came in contact with the PM, followed the safety guidelines: wore a face mask, maintained social distancing and used disinfectants. Gevorgyan went on to say that tests will be conducted if ordered by a doctor. She said that the PM is feeling well and is continuing to work remotely.
Update on the Number of Cases
COVID-19 Update: The Ministry of Health reported 210 new cases of COVID-19 and 16 recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 9,402, of which 5,896 are active cases and 3,402 have already recovered. Eight COVID-19 patients (ages 63, 65, 67, 69, 73, 81, 81 and 82), who all, except the 69-year-old, had pre-existing health conditions, died bringing the total number of deaths to 139. Five COVID-19 patients also died but the virus was not the cause of death; to date 55 such cases have been reported. To date, 58,668 tests have been conducted, of which 603 were in the last 24 hours.
Situation in Artsakh
Artsakh’s Ministry of Health reported three new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases to 43, of which 26 have already recovered and the remaining 17 are in stable condition. All three are citizens of Artsakh who were arriving from abroad and were isolated upon their arrival. To date 926 tests have been conducted and 102 citizens are in quarantine.
Prime Minister and Family Test Positive for COVID-19
In a Facebook live, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan confirmed that he and his family have tested positive for COVID-19. Pashinyan said that he had undergone testing because he was planning to go to the frontlines. He noted that he and his family members do not have any symptoms at the moment and went on to say that, over the past month, his temperature was monitored daily and he had been following safety protocols. He said that he has made the necessary arrangements to continue working from home while in quarantine and called on the citizens of Armenia to also follow safety regulations.
Pashinyan clarified that he was most probably infected at work from an employee, who later tested positive for COVID-19. He said that he remembers the employee handling his glass of water without gloves. Though the glass was replaced at the time, the incident could suggest that there were other times the safety rules were not followed.
The PM noted that the Government’s strategy remains the same and people need to learn how to live alongside the virus. He urged citizens to wear face masks, regularly wash/disinfect their hands and maintain social distancing.
Alina Nikoghosyan, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Health confirmed that eight cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at the National Center for Mental Health (1 patient and 7 staff members). The entire staff of the Center and 54 patients were tested, the test results will come back soon.
The Ministry of Health reported 355 new cases of COVID-19 and 69 recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 9,282, of which 5,715 are active cases and 3,386 have already recovered. Four COVID-19 patients (ages 54, 68, 70 and 86), who all had pre-existing health conditions, died bringing the total number of deaths to 131. Two COVID-19 patients also died but the virus was not the cause of death; to date 50 such cases have been reported. To date, 58,065 tests have been conducted, of which 984 were in the last 24 hours.
With the collective efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Armenian Embassy in India and the Indian Embassy in Armenia, 23 Armenian citizens were transferred to Yerevan on a special flight and 130 Indian students returned to India as part of the same flight.
The Ministry of Health reported 251 new cases of COVID-19 and 20 recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 8,927, of which 5,435 are active cases and 3,317 have already recovered. Seven COVID-19 patients (ages 61, 64, 70, 73, 75, 76 and 82), who all had pre-existing health conditions, died bringing the total number of deaths to 127. Three COVID-19 patients also died but the virus was not the cause of death; to date 48 such cases have been reported. To date, 57,081 tests have been conducted, of which 1,039 were in the last 24 hours.