Cumulative Cases: 1867
Active Cases: 971
Government Session: We Will Need to Live With COVID-19 for at Least One Year
During a government session, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that, since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the government had hopes that the coronavirus pandemic could be addressed in the short-term or at least a resolution would be available in the foreseeable future. However, Pashinyan said it is time to acknowledge that we will be living alongside the virus for at least another year. This means that our strategic and short term solutions need to be replaced with longer-term accommodations.
Pashinyan said the government has always considered the need for a long-term plan. “The first step in this direction is to train ourselves and the public to live, develop and use the time rationally, while understanding fairly well that this comes with epidemiological risks,” the Prime Minister said. “The next problem is that, to be able to live under these new conditions, we need to adapt new kinds of behavior, develop new kinds of reflexes in everyday life and economic activity.”
According to the Prime Minister, the strategy is to reopen all businesses under strict safety measures set by the Ministry of Health, the Special Commission and the Government, even before the end of the State of Emergency. “This will not be easy to accomplish without a very high degree of self-awareness and discipline or else it will lead to new waves of infections,” he said.
The goal is to make sure new waves of infections do not oblige the government to revert back to tougher restrictions, which would be harder to recover from for society and the economy.
Health Minister Arsen Torosyan: Efforts Need to Continue
Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan said in a Facebook post that the growth rate of COVID-19 infections has remained about the same in a range between 3-5%. Torosyan said Armenia was able to flatten the curve to a certain extent and was able to buy time to readjust and have a more organized response in the fight against the disease. Torosyan said the efforts need to be continued and they need to be applied collectively, by everyone. People should continue social distancing, disinfecting their hands often and wearing masks whenever possible. As restrictions are loosened, an increased sense of personal responsibility is needed. Easing restrictions doesn’t mean that there is no longer a threat of infection or infecting others, especially the older generation and those who suffer from pre-existing chronic illnesses.
Changes to State of Emergency Regulations
According to the decision of the Warden of the Special Commission Tigran Avinyan, changes and amendments were made to the N.27 decision of the Commission, adopted on March 31. The decision stipulates that the following will be allowed:
1) shopping at places that are no more than 500 meters away from the place of residence, self-isolation or work in urban areas, and no more than one kilometer in rural areas;
2) exercise or cycle at a distance of no more than one kilometer away from the place of residence;
3) walk at a distance of no more than one kilometer away from the place of residence, and with a maximum of two adults or family members;
Citizens will still need to have their ID and fill out the mandatory standardized form (in a mobile app or on paper), specifying the time, address, destination, and purpose of going out.
The Prime Minister on Utility Payments
In a Facebook live, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke about the government’s decision to reverse its initial announcement that no one’s electricity or natural gas will be turned off because of nonpayment during the State of Emergency (SOE).
The government had announced that utilities will not be cut off because of nonpayment back in March, when the projection was to have the SOE lifted in April. As a result, even customers who were able to pay stopped paying their utility bill. According to Pashinyan, this brought the electric and gas networks of Armenia to the brink of collapse. The companies reached a point where they would not be able to pay for the supply, their employees’ salaries, or their taxes. In the first trimester of 2020, Electrical Networks of Armenia (ENA) was the country’s largest taxpayer. “At this point, we are not talking about cutting the electricity of 2000, 5000 people, but we are talking about the collapse of the electricity system in the country.” Therefore, the choice was between having electricity and natural gas in the country or not, said Pashinyan.
According to the Prime Minister, around 7 billion AMD worth of utility payments were made within days of announcing that cuts will be made in case of nonpayment.
There are 775,000 electricity and 623,000 natural gas customers in Armenia. The electricity of 4,300 customers and the natural gas of 736 customers has been disconnected. In the case of electricity, customers owing over 30,000 AMD were disconnected. In the case of natural gas, the amount owed per customer was 80,000 AMD or more. Pashinyan said this is an indication that many who were able to pay, thousands of large consumers, had made the choice to take advantage of the situation.
Pashinyan said that the latest projections show that the pandemic may last until next March if not later. If the moratorium on disconnections were extended, the electricity system would stop functioning. Pashinyan said the beneficiaries of the 11th and 12th assistance programs, around 300,000 people, have been identified and their electricity has not been cut off. According to the Prime Minister, the government assumes some of the 4300 customers whose electricity has been cut off are people in need of assistance and the government still needs to identify them and offer assistance.
In the coming ten days, the government will gradually move toward minimizing SOE restrictions. Within the next ten days, all forms of economic activity will be allowed. The Ministry of Health will draw up the safety measures to be followed by each industry (restaurants, cafes, factories, etc.). Pashinyan said only restrictions on the education system will remain in place.
Special Session of Parliament
Parliament held a special session to discuss three draft bills proposed by the government, aimed at mitigating the consequences of the spread of COVID-19. Atom Janjughazyan, the Minister of Economy, presented the government’s first proposal to make changes in Armenia’s 2020 state budget. The Minister explained that, since Armenia has an open economy, all the external shocks created by the pandemic, such as price fluctuations for goods in international markets, had their influence on Armenia’s economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is estimating a 3% decline in the global economy. Janjughazyan noted that, similar to countries around the world, Armenia is likely to be affected by the decline in world metal and oil prices. Considering Armenia’s strategic relations with Russia, Armenia is also likely to be affected by the drop in the value of the Russian ruble.
These external shocks are transferred to Armenia through weak external demand, decline in the tourism sector, and a reduction in remittances. Speaking about internal restrictions imposed by the State of Emergency (SOE), Janjughazyan noted that restrictions on movement and economic activity have also had their influence on Armenia’s economy. Considering the presence of internal and external shocks, Armenia is expected to have a 2% economic decline. Janjughazyan reminded that Armenia’s 2020 budget was set under an assumption of 4.9% economic growth.
The draft bill proposes to allocate an additional 150 billion AMD, 25 billion of which will be used to mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic, 25 billion for the social consequences, 80 billion for the financing of long-term economic development programs. The remaining 20 billion AMD will be reserve funds, to be reallocated if and when necessary. Janjughazyan noted that, because of the unprecedented crisis, the goal of government actions so far has been to develop a targeted and timely response to the spread of the pandemic. This bill will be further discussed and voted on tomorrow at 11 a.m.
During the first reading, Parliament passed (82 in favor, 12 against, and 14 abstentions) the government’s second proposal to make changes and amendments to the Law on the Legal Regime of the State of Emergency (SOE) and the Law on Normative Legal Acts. Rafik Grigoryan, the First Deputy Minister of Justice, presented the proposed changes. Grigoryan explained that the reason for the proposed changes is that Armenia’s legal system was not prepared for a challenge like the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the virus has created the need to implement certain measures, which are not considered by the existing legislation. According to the proposed amendments, it is recommended to clarify the role of the Special Commission, the status of the Warden, and the nature of acts adopted by the Commission. The proposed changes stipulate that, if a decision on declaring a SOE is adopted, then the Prime Minister or Deputy PM will act as the Warden of the Special Commission and carry out the management of the implementation of the necessary measures. The Warden is allowed to involve other state bodies in the process.
While exercising its power, the Special Commission is allowed to adopt acts, similar to the acts adopted by the PM or Deputy PM. Grigoryan said that, based on the recommendation received from members of Parliament, the Special Commission will be formed based on the decision of the government (the initial version said that the Warden creates the Special Commission). Due to the need for prompt responses during the SOE, some measures, such as restrictions imposed on educational processes, were clarified. The proposed changes also mention that, during the SOE, restrictions on the exercise of personal rights can be imposed in order to limit the spread of the virus (which stems from Articles 76 and 27 of the Constitution, as well as the Articles 5 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms). The exercise of personal rights can be restricted based on oral or written orders by the bodies involved in the implementation of measures during the SOE. The Warden and the Special Commission will continue their operations in accordance with the new regulations.
During the first reading, Parliament voted in favor (92 in favor and 18 abstentions) of the government’s third proposal to make changes and amendments to the Code on Labor and the Code on Administrative Offences. Arman Udumyan, the Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, presented the proposed changes. Udumyan clarified that the proposed amendments to the Labor Code will facilitate better employee-employer legal relations during the SOE. He went on to say that the changes clarify the concept of remote work, and if it is possible to organize the work of the employee, they should be fully compensated. Under a force majeure, an employer may not pay an employee during the forced leave. Clarifications were made as to what constitutes a force majeure in the areas specified by the Special Commission. However, the changes also allow an employer to pay employees during the forced leave. The employer is also required to allow employees to use their unused vacation days, based on the request of an employee. With the proposed changes, the employer is not allowed to apply disciplinary sanctions against employees who are either unable to go to work or arrive late as a result of the emergency situation. This particularly refers to parents who are forced to stay at home and take care of children because of the restrictions imposed on schools.
Updates on Number of New Cases
In the latest update from the Ministry of Health, there are 59 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Armenia, bringing the cumulative total to 1867. Eighteen patients have recovered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 866; there are currently 971 active cases. A 67-year-old patient has died, bringing the number of COVID-19 deaths to 30.