Cumulative Cases: 2066
Active Cases: 1103
Nikol Pashinyan: “End of the Utility Payment Crisis”
The government will be expanding benefits for consumers of electricity, gas and water. During a Facebook live earlier this evening, Prime Minister Pashinyan said that the government will assist consumers whose electricity bills are between 10,001 – 25,000 AMD and natural gas bills are between 30,000 – 40,000 AMD.
The Prime Minister titled the live broadcast as “The end of the utility payment crisis.” He said that the government will reimburse 30 percent of utility payments for 207,837 electricity consumers and 81,697 natural gas consumers. In addition, residents of 310 villages without natural gas, will have 50% of their electricity bill reimbursed and the government will also reimburse 50% of water bills for those consumers whose bill was up to 3000 AMD.
Fifteenth Assistance Package: Environment
During a press conference, Vardan Melikyan, the Deputy Minister of Environment, gave a briefing about the fifteenth assistance package adopted by the government, targeted at mitigating the effects of COVID-19. Melikyan explained that the package proposes planting local willow species in Armenia’s highlands near river banks, thereby creating additional jobs and involving the local populations in the work. The program will be implemented in six of Armenia’s regions, including, Lori, Shirak, Tavush, Gegharkunik, Vayots Dzor and Syunik. The Deputy Minister said that the mapping of the rivers where the willows are to be planted will be finalized very soon. The program will be implemented with the help of Hayantar, Armenia Tree Project and the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets. These three organizations will make announcements, which will be spread in the communities where the planting activities will be implemented. Due to this program, 1,000 temporary jobs will be created for 10-15 days. Over 200 million AMD will be allocated for the implementation of the program and 2 million willow trees will be planted.
While answering reporters’ questions, Melikyan reaffirmed that the program is aimed at alleviating the economic pressure of those who are especially affected by the spread of coronavirus. 50 AMD will be provided for each willow tree to be planted. It is expected that each person can prepare and plant at least 200 trees per day, receiving 10,000 AMD.
Minister of Labor & Social Affairs Press Briefing
During a press conference, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Zaruhi Batoyan said nine out of the 15 government-funded assistance programs are social assistance programs, and as part of those programs, particularly N. 6,7,8,9 and 13, the government has already made 12 billion AMD available to the beneficiaries. As for assistance program number eight, the list of beneficiaries has been expanded (as of today’s government decision) to also include employees working in the production of clothes, shoes, furniture, jewellery from precious and non precious stones and metals, car repair services, car rentals, air travel, cinemas, photography, education including culture, dance, sports, performance arts, dry cleaning and other cleaning services, and printing. Batoyan said that, with the expanded list, the program is expected to have 36,000 additional beneficiaries and a two billion AMD budgetary expansion.
In order to avoid crowding at banks, the Minister advised beneficiaries to only visit the banks after they have received a notification.
Batoyan noted that, through the 9th assistance package, benefits were given for more than 130,000 children and it is expected that more benefits for the same number of children will be allocated. For further information, people can call the hotline at 114 or 011-300-114 during business hours. She advised everyone to fill out the forms carefully as a number of potential beneficiaries were declined due to technical errors.
All 287 veterans of the Second World War will receive a one-time benefit of 300,000 AMD.
Government Discusses COVID-19 Situation
Arsen Torosyan, the Minister of Health, provided updates regarding the COVID-19 situation in the country. He said that 134 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Armenia, bringing the total number of infected patients to 2,066; 29 patients have recovered, for a total of 929 recoveries. There are 1103 active cases. Two patients who were infected with COVID-19 died from other causes, bringing the total number of deaths to 32. Six of the infected patients are on respirators. Seventeen of the patients are in critical condition and 59 in serious condition. Torosyan noted that, if this trend continues, then the Ministry will soon stop hospitalizing those patients who do not exhibit symptoms of the virus. He went on to say that, with its current capacity, the Ministry will only be able to hospitalize patients over the next five to six days before they reach bed capacity. The Minister said that many of the 134 patients who tested positive for the virus are connected, so it is not possible to say for sure whether the current trend will continue. He also said that some of the patients were infected because an already-infected person took part in a funeral service. Torosyan once again urged citizens to ensure that funeral services are attended by a limited number of people.
Tigran Avinyan, the Warden of the Special Commission and Deputy Prime Minister, said that the increased number of confirmed cases, most of which are interconnected, will not change the government’s plan to ease restrictions on economic activities starting May 4. He stressed that, based on the dynamics of the next few days as well as the scope of the infected patients, the government will more clearly define its strategy and adjust it if necessary. He reminded that businesses that will be allowed to resume their activities, will need to follow set sanitary rules and regulations. Restrictions on the education sector as well as on cultural and entertainment places will not be lifted.
PM Nikol Pashinyan noted that, if the government fails to raise peoples’ awareness about the basic rules of conduct and encourage them to follow those rules, they will be challenged by some serious problems once the restrictions are lifted. Pashinyan explained how he saw a group of people gathered together and that even one infected person would be enough to spread the virus. He went on to say that, when the restrictions were first imposed, everyone hoped that the situation would get back to normal within the next two months. But the dynamics of the spread of the virus shows that it may take up to one year to fully eliminate the virus. No country in the world, including Armenia, can be under lockdown for a year, he said, stressing that the government’s priority is to ensure that everyone understands what the new rules of conduct are and that the society is ready to get back to its normal socio-economic life and live along with the virus. Avinyan once again reaffirmed that it is in everyone’s best interest to follow the rules that will be in place once the restrictions are lifted. He noted that, if the number of confirmed cases starts significantly increasing once the restrictions are lifted, then even stricter restrictions will be imposed.
Tigran Khachatryan, the Minister of Economy, presented the Ministry’s proposals to amend the economic assistance packages aimed at mitigating the consequences of COVID-19 in the agricultural sector. The Minister noted that, during the past few weeks, the government has significantly improved the financial conditions of the program for the agricultural sector and made substantive changes to ensure that the proposed programs serve their purpose. Khachatryan explained that the results of various agricultural programs implemented during 2019 has shown that there is an increasing demand for the loan program, which provides financial assistance between 3 to 15 million AMD for a maximum of five years. The interest rates of this loan program are fully subsidized by the government. The proposed changes stipulate that, if the loan is used for cattle breeding, then the maximum loan is increased from 15 to 50 million AMD. If the loan is used for sheep breeding, then a maximum 30 million AMD loan will be provided.
The Minister said that last year’s results for various programs also show that a significant number of farmers are applying for the leasing programs, offered by the Ministry, to acquire new equipment. With the proposed changes, the government will offer to co-finance up to 10 million AMD of each leasing transaction. The proposed changes will also affect farmers who are engaged in pedigree cattle breeding. If those farmers have smart livestock buildings, they will be able to benefit from the government’s 30% co-financing. PM Pashinyan explained that the proposed changes were introduced based on the recommendations received from governors.
Government also discussed and adopted the 15th assistance package aimed at mitigating the consequences of COVID-19. Erik Grigoryan, the Minister of Environment, presented the package, which proposes planting local willow species in Armenia’s highlands near river banks, which will consequently create additional jobs and involve the local populations in the work. It is expected that this assistance package will alleviate the pressure in geographic areas which have been experiencing a lack of income. The beneficiaries of the program are all those who will be involved in the planting process. The implementation of the program will be coordinated by Hayantar, Armenia Tree Project and the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets, which have extensive experience in such work. 50 AMD will be provided for each willow tree planted. According to the Minister, 10,000 willows can be planted on one hectare of land. Grigoryan noted that planting willow trees near river banks is a widely accepted practice around the world, which protects the soil from erosion and floods, also acting as a filter to reduce water pollution. The program will create 1,000 temporary jobs. Over 450 people will also be involved in Hayantar’s ongoing plating activities.
Zaruhi Batoyan, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, clarified that all those socially vulnerable families who receive state assistance will continue to receive that assistance, even if they are involved in temporary work, like the one proposed by the fifteenth assistance package. She urged the organizations that will be coordinating the work to try and involve socially vulnerable groups in this program.
PM Pashinyan announced that, to date, 54.9 billion AMD was allocated as part of all the first 14 assistance packages initiated by the government. Over 22,000 businesses and 775,000 people benefited from the allocated resources. He went on to say that the programs are still ongoing and the number of beneficiaries is increasing every day.
The Government also discussed and adopted a decision to make reallocations in the 2020 state budget. Ahead of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War (World War II), a one-time bonus of 300,000 AMD will be provided to each of the 287 living veterans of the War. Over 86 million AMD will be used from the budget for this initiative.
Update on Number of Cases
According to the Ministry of Health, 134 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Armenia, bringing the total number of infected patients to 2,066; 29 patients have recovered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 929. There are 1103 active cases. Two patients who were infected with COVID-19 died, bringing the total number of deaths to 32.