Total number of people infected with COVID-19: 571
Total number of recovered: 31
Total number of deaths: 4
Fourth COVID-19 Patient Dies
The spokesperson of the Ministry of Health Alina Nikoghosyan confirmed in a Facebook post that a 89-year-old patient with COVID-19 has passed away at the Nork Infection Diseases Hospital. Nikoghosyan said the patient had developed double pneumonia, and suffered from secondary health conditions, hypertension and diabetes.
Minister of Justice Clarifies Controversial Tracking
During a press conference, Justice Minister Rustam Badasyan spoke about the legislative packages that were adopted by the National Assembly yesterday in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The Justice Minister said that over the past two days, he along with other Members of Parliament have tried to clarify that the proposed bills are not about wiretapping citizens’ private phone conversations and that the measure is not disproportionate interference. Badasyan said that since “manipulative interpretations” of the adopted bills continue to be disseminated, he once again decided to explain the nature of the bills and dispel rumors.
The Minister reasserted that the bills will not allow the government to wiretap private phone conversations or messages. He went on to say that measures will be implemented only during the period of the state of emergency that was declared because of the pandemic. The restrictions will not apply to states of emergencies declared for any other reasons in the future. All personal and non-personal data will be destroyed after the state of emergency.
Speaking about the need for the adopted restrictions, Badasyan referred to Health Minister Arsen Torosyan’s Facebook post about the dynamics of the spread of coronavirus, which show that the number of infected people is expected to double every seven days. He explained that with the proposed restrictions (identifying the location of an infected/possibly infected person and people the infected/possibly infected person talked to), the government will have the necessary tools to prevent the interaction of a potentially infected person with others and will require them to quarantine or self-isolate. The sooner people know that they are potentially infected, the sooner the chain of transmission will be broken. Considering the current situation, Badasyan said that the intervention is necessary and the measures are proportionate and justified, and that along with the already existing restrictions will halt the spread of COVID-19.
Badasyan said that the entire system is automated and once there is information about an infected/possibly infected person, the system will provide data about the location of that person, and the people he/she has been in contact with. To accurately assess the risk factor, the location of the two people that have talked to each other via phone has to match (if a possibly infected person based in Yerevan talks to someone in Gyumri then the possibility of transferring the infection is minimal). Once there is a match of location, a responsible person from the Ministry of Emergency Situations will contact the person, clarify some other circumstance, and a decision will be made based on that. According to Badasyan, Israel, South Korea, China, and Singapore are among the countries that implemented similar measures, which have proven to be effective in minimizing the spread of the virus.
Responding to reporters’ questions, Badasyan said that the information will be available only to a limited number of people. Concerns were raised that because of the adopted measures, people will start using apps like Messenger, WhatsApp, or Viber to make calls. In response, the Minister urged everyone to prioritize their health and the health of their relatives and not to resort to such actions. Speaking about the situation in prisons, Badasyan said that some inmates were tested for COVID-19 but the results came back negative.
Financial Assistance Packages
Deputy Ministers of Economy, Naira Markaryan and Arman Khojoyan gave a Press Conference outlining a number of financial assistance packages.
Those applying for assistance foreseen by the second and third packages can call the following hotlines: 8105 and 041010523 open during work days from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The website is isc.am
Deputy Minister Naira Markaryan said that the third assistance package is for small and medium sized businesses that work in the tourism, health, food and manufacturing industries, whose 2019 annual turnover was between 24-500 million AMD, and whose 2019 quarterly turnover was more than ten percent of their annual turnover, who have a clean tax and credit history. According to Markayan these organizations can apply to receive interest free loans. These are 36-month loans with zero interest for the first 24 months. For the remaining 12 months, there will be a 12 percent interest rate. The loan will only be given in the form of a transfer (non-cash) and can only be used to pay salaries, taxes, rent, utilities and purchase raw material. The loans will have a six month grace period. Starting with the seventh month all beneficiaries are expected to start repayments. If the beneficiary is from the tourism and accommodation industry, starting in the seventh until the 12th month, the beneficiary is expected to make payments not exceeding 70 thousand AMD/month. Early repayment is allowed, there will be no fines for early repayment of the loan, it is even encouraged.
All applications should be submitted online at http://isc.am/
Markaryan said that there will also be a series of webinars available on the Ministry’s website and social media pages where Armenia’s leading consultancy agencies will offer free consultancy to interested parties and answer questions.
Speaking of the assistance programs available for agriculture, Deputy Minister of Economy Arman Khojoyan said that all loans offered to the agricultural sector through the assistance program are zero percent interest loans with a three to 12 month grace period.
Khojoyan said assistance programs have two components, loans and compensation. For the loan programs, the citizen should first of all apply to the financial institution; the financial institution will then present the list of possible beneficiaries to the Ministry of Economy, who will organize training for the given group (currently online). After their participation in the program, people will receive certificates, which they will present to the financial institution. Then each financial institution evaluates the solvency of the beneficiary, according to their own internal procedures, and accordingly make a decision whether or not to give the loan.
For the compensation component of the program, this according to Khojoyan is for people who have a certain amount of capital but need a developmental boost to build greenhouses, smart farms, intensive farms, to install irrigation systems or invest in sheep husbandry. Khojoyan said for each of these instances different interest rates have been set. For example if a smart farm is estimated to cost 11 million AMD, the government will compensate 5.5 million AMD.
For compensation, the potential beneficiary applies directly to the Ministry with appropriate ID and documents proving ownership of the land the program is going to be implemented on. Five days after a trip to the site, the Ministry will make a decision whether to support the initiative. Khojoyan said certain initiatives may also mandate that the beneficiary take a five-day training program, for example if the project is to build green houses.
For initiatives that do not fall in the abovemented categories, Khojoyan said loans for up to 1 million and from 3-15 million AMD will be made available to farmers with a 12 month grace period. These loans are aimed at helping the farmer acquire necessities like seeds, tools, agricultural technology, etc.
Khojoyan said about 11 banks and seven credit organizations are collaborating with the government on their assistance packages.
Tighter Restrictions on Movement Throughout Armenia
0:10 a.m. (March 31)
The State Commission on the State of Emergency has introduced tighter restrictions on movement that will come into force starting on April 1 until April 13.
The decision foresees the restriction of people’s free movement throughout the entire country and mandatory self-isolation of everyone in their place of residence or another dwelling of their choice in order to limit direct contact with others and prevent the transmission of the virus. The place of residence chosen cannot be changed until the expiry of the decision (April 13).
According to the decision, free movement of the population will also be restricted between and among the regions of the Republic of Armenia and the administrative borders of the capital Yerevan.
Special checkpoints will be set up at locations designated by the National Security Service and the Police of the Republic of Armenia at 1 p.m. on April 1, 2020 to monitor the movement of persons and vehicles.
Public transport will not operate with the exception of rail transport (trains). Taxis will be allowed to operate.
Free movement of the population will be restricted between and among the regions; movement will be allowed only for work and a few other exceptions.
Members of the same family or employees from the same company can travel in the same vehicle with no restriction on numbers.
A form filled out by the employer will be necessary for anyone going to work.
The completed “movement” form (in effect since March 24) will be required for other specified cases (in other circumstances, specified by the Special Commission?)
The restrictions on economic activity will mainly remain the same.
According to the decision, temporary restrictions on types of economic activity are applied throughout the territory of the Republic of Armenia within the prescribed period.
The Decision will enter into force on April 1 at midnight.
Health Minister Appeals to the Nation
11:10 p.m. (March 31)
In a late night Facebook post, Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan represented the pace of the spread of coronavirus in different countries and with what progression the numbers are multiplying. The Minister said different countries have had different progression speeds, which can take two to ten days for the numbers to double. “We are currently at the seven day stage. Meaning, our numbers are doubling every seven days. This is similar to the case in Japan,” wrote Torosyan. “Only ‘we’ can stop this pace, and we can only do this ‘together.’”
Assuming that the given pace is preserved, according to Torosyan, Armenia will have about 1000 confirmed cases on April 7 and 2000 cases on April 14. “It is our prerogative to make sure that this dynamic gradually slows down,” wrote Torosyan adding that the initial goal is to equate the numbers of new patients with the number of recovered patients and then aim to have fewer new cases than the number of recovered patients.
“If this dynamic is sustained and we do not flatten the curve like South Korea, we will be obliged to ‘treat’ patients with mild or no symptoms at their homes,” wrote Torosyan adding that the above mentioned scenario is something they would prefer to avoid but the healthcare system, including the special branch that has been developed to deal with COVID-19, will not be able to handle such pressure. “No healthcare system of any country is prepared for such a load,” added Torosyan.
“For this very reason it is important to stay home, to strictly follow the rules of self-isolation, even if for fear of being fined. For this very reason it is important that we, with whatever means, respond to the violations of the regime and be able to return citizens to shelter-in-place. This is not a self-serving initiative, it is a tool that has direct implications on the spread of the virus,” wrote Torosyan.
Torosyan concluded his post by pointing out that whatever is being achieved by the Armenian healthcare system is now ten times more than what could be expected of a healthcare system that for years was only allocated only 1.5 percent of the country’s GDP. “The achievements today are the result of the work of the staff in the health industry, and the unconditional work of some state institutions,” he noted.
Field Hospitals Being Set Up
11:05 p.m. (March 31)
After a photo was leaked showing the foyer of the Karen Demirjyan Sports Complex being set up to serve as a field hospital, Mane Gevorgyan, the spokesperson of the Prime Minister’s office, who is also currently in charge of communications for the Special Commission clarified that the commission is considering all possible scenarios with regard to the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic in Armenia and preparing a corresponding response for each case scenario.
Different locations have been identified for the isolation of citizens and the Karen Demirjyan complex is one, wrote Gevorgyan and said it is necessary to emphasize that it is possible the venue will never be used.