Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, during the government’s daily briefing, said the COVID-19 situation in Armenia continues to deteriorate and it boils down to one major problem and that is following safety rules. Pashinyan noted that if regulations are diligently followed, it will undoubtedly decrease the number of infections and could potentially eliminate them. He said that the safety regulations are clearly written in the communication of the Special Commission on the State of Emergency. However, the Prime Minister said he would like to discuss the overall political context of the situation. He said that the very foundation and principles of their administration is, in essence, working against them in this situation. This, according to Pashinyan, is conditioned by the fact that the prevailing atmosphere of fear disappeared after the 2018 Velvet Revolution, but unfortunately, an environment and culture of abiding the law has yet to properly develop.
According to Pashinyan, there are also issues with how blatantly the rules are being violated. He brought an example of businesses that are being forced to temporarily suspend operations for violating safety regulations. He said that arguments are being made that the produce will be spoiled and they are inflicting financial losses. Pashinyan said that it is evident that monitoring, enforcement and fines are not severe enough. The situation has become so acute in the current atmosphere, that following a decision to shut down the operations of a store selling vegetables, opinions immediately emerge that he, the Prime Minister, has decided to monopolize the tomato or the shoe market.
Pashinyan said he called a session of the Special Commission today at noon and emphasized that safety measures should be implemented strictly with no consideration of any excuse since people should be able to think ahead about the repercussion of non-compliance of the rules. Thereby, he said that businesses should follow safety measures to ensure they are not faced with losses.
Pashinyan said that Armenian society is at the following juncture: We continue ignoring the safety rules and end up in another lockdown with a curfew and similar restrictions, subjecting the country to new economic and social upheaval, or together, the government, the civic sector and citizens take control of the situation and see rapid results. These are our options, Pashinyan said.
The Prime Minister said that the law should be enforced without taking into consideration any sentiment, any counterargument, excuse, or any emotion: “This was my order to law enforcement today.” Pashinyan said he will personally see that the rules are followed and reiterated that if they are not, repercussions will be considerable. “We only have days to make this happen,” said the Prime Minister. “At most three days for a qualitative change in the country.”
Regarding his health, Pashinyan said he and his family have not yet exhibited any symptoms [Pashinyan, his wife and three daughters tested positive for COVID-19] and are waiting to see how the course of the virus develops. The Prime Minister said he is continuing to carry out his duties in full; only receptions have been left out of his schedule.
Artavazd Vanyan, the Director of the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention spoke about the reasons for the increase of the number of confirmed cases and why the COVID-19 situation in the country remains critical. Vanyan noted that the analysis of the epidemic situation in March and April shows that within one month, the number of confirmed cases has almost tripled. But it is important to remember that during this one month the restrictions imposed by the Special Commission were still in place, interactions among people were limited, and the situation was under control. The comparison of the number of cases reported in March and May, shows that within the last two months, the number of cases has increased 13 times. Vanyan explained that after the restrictions were lifted, gatherings of large numbers of people in one place became more common, which consequently resulted in the situation that we are faced with now.
Vanyan urged citizens to follow the safety guidelines introduced by the Special Commission, avoid organizing or participating in large gatherings and when organizing, make sure that it is in an open space, with a very limited number of people and that everyone follows the rules. He went on to say that it is particularly important to avoid participating in funerals, because of which a large number of people have been infected. Another common source for the spread of the virus that Vanyan mentioned is the accumulation of people in their neighbourhoods in the evening hours. He noted that people perceive the lack of symptoms of the virus as conclusive evidence for the lack of infection (which oftentimes is not the case). Vanyan also urged citizens to avoid participating in pilgrimages since it is practically impossible to follow the rules during such gatherings. He also urged people to shop, only when necessary, avoid being in crowded places, and minimize contact with other people. He reminded people about individual responsibility and stressed that every infected patient or patient who dies after battling the virus can be our friend or family member.
Gevorg Simonyan, Director of Armenia’s National Burn Center, who is temporarily heading up the infection department at the Holy Mother of God Medical Center explained how a patient can go from being active and virtually feeling normal to being unresponsive. He spoke about a specific patient who had been hospitalized on April 13. The patient had sought medical help quite late, and had been hospitalized with advanced pneumonia and has been on a ventilator ever since (for more than 50 days now). Simonyan said the medical staff are doing everything possible and even the impossible to save the patient’s life and these are people who, for the third month now, have been working under stress for endless hours. Simonyan said the irresponsible behaviour of citizens is eventually going to exhaust medical staff.
Simonyan said it is regrettable that even now, there are people, groups of people who do not believe the virus is real or do not grasp the gravity of the situation in the country while medical workers are confronted with witnessing people dying daily, tragedies as whole families die.
Following the addresses by Vanyan and Simonyan, the Prime Minister said that during every session of the Special Commission, the necessity of returning to a complete lockdown is being discussed. Something that the healthcare system thinks is a necessity.He said that implementing another lockdown will be disastrous for the economy and social welfare. He said that almost 100 billion AMD has been spent on social and economic assistance programs to mitigate the fallout of the pandemic. However, he went on to say that the government’s resources are not limitless and a second lockdown could lead to an economic crisis that Armenia might not recover from for a long time.
Public TV 2, Armine Tamrazyan: Georgia plans to open for tourists starting July but said they will not accept visitors from Armenia because it is not in the green zone. The Warden of the State of Emergency recently said that Armenia will likely open up air travel in July. Is there information about which countries will ban visitors from Armenia over the summer months?
Pashinyan: It will depend on the situation in the country. Armenia has also closed communication with some counties because of the epidemiological situation there and it is logical that in this situation we can not expect any other development. Armenia registered a 41% increase in local tourism last year and it would not be bad if that number increased to150% this year. However the epidemiological situation has to be under strict control.
1in.am, Artak Eghiazaryan: A record number of confirmed cases were reported today. Isn’t it time to introduce stricter restrictions to halt the spread of the virus? There are talks about returning to a quarantine regime. Was the earlier quarantine regime justified?
Pashinyan: Within this period, the hospital capacity allocated for patients with coronavirus has increased five times. Also, de jure a very strict regime is already in place now; the problem is with the actual situation in the country. Also, a serious psychological problem exists in government-society relations. Considering the very foundation of this government, there is a line that the government cannot cross while imposing restrictions. We have formed the government together, we are one family and some of the family members cannot use extreme measures on the rest. The atmosphere of fear has been completely eliminated from the country but despite that, respect towards each other’s rights hasn’t yet been fully established. Now is the time that law enforcement bodies show they are ready to ensure the strict enforcement of anti-epidemic rules and restrictions.
Names of Deceased Leaked
A number of media outlets published the full names and birth dates of the 132 people who have died of COVID-19. The Spokesperson of the Ministry of Health Alina Nikoghosyan confirmed that while the information is correct, the Ministry will apply to law enforcement to reveal the source of the leak. “I believe the leak was from a Facebook page and we will also try to find out how that information ended up on that page. This is a breach of human rights…something which is totally unacceptable,” Nikoghosyan said.
Update on the Number of Cases
The Ministry of Health reported 517 new cases of COVID-19 and 25 recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 10,009, of which 6,368 are active cases and 3,427 have already recovered. Nineteen COVID-19 patients (the average of the deceased is 69), who all had pre-existing health conditions, died bringing the total number of deaths to 158. One COVID-19 patient also died but the virus was not the cause of death; to date 56 such cases have been reported. To date, 59,917 tests have been conducted, of which 1,249 were in the last 24 hours.