Total number of people infected with COVID-19: 833
Total number of recovered: 57
Total number of deaths: 8
The Prime Minister Answers Citizens’ Questions
In a three-hour Facebook live, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan answered citizens’ questions. Because Armenia continues to remain in a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of questions focused on the socioeconomic challenges that many people in the country are facing. Some of the questions covered issues relating to inflation, fake news, agricultural loans, tuition fees and social assistance programs for vulnerable families, economic assistance programs for small businesses as well as capital expenditure programs to mitigate the inevitable economic fallout.
Prime Minister Pashinyan said the goal of the government is to test up to 1000 people/day starting this week. He also noted that Armenia is likely to begin production of its own COVID-19 tests and $550,000 US has been earmarked for that purpose for the Institute of Molecular Biology.
With most businesses shut down in the country, there are concerns about the population’s ability to pay for basic needs, including utilities. Pashinyan said that nothing will be turned off (water, gas, electricity, etc.) because of non-payment for the duration of the State of Emergency. Regarding people’s concerns with rise in prices of certain goods, the Prime Minister said that no one should be allowed to profit off of people’s misery, but too much government control could have the opposite effect. Regarding university tuition fees, Pashinyan said that all tuitions will be suspended until the end of the state of emergency and then individual payment arrangements will need to be made. He stressed that students in good standing should not be deprived of studying because of the situation.
When tighter restrictions came into force on April 1, all public transport was suspended. This has caused serious problems for those people working in what is considered essential jobs (supermarkets, pharmacies) as they are now obligated to take taxis to work. The Prime Minister acknowledged that this was a challenge, but could offer no solutions at the moment [the government has provided free transportation for all medical staff working in hospitals].
Regarding gas prices, Pashinyan said he had a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin [Armenia imports more than 80% of its gas from Russia]. He also noted that the price of gas in Armenia has always been politicized. He said that Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan has contacted the Russian giant Gazprom proposing the sides begin negotiations regarding the price of gas supplied to Armenia [which until now has been paid for in US dollars; Armenian side believes that they should pay in rubles].
Regarding the cases of COVID-19 in the armed forces, Pashinyan said that those soldiers who have tested positive are from one specific non-combat unit.
Health Minister: Exercise Caution
During a Facebook live, Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan said the fact that there were only 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on April 5 is a positive development; however, it is also an indication that not only the government but also the population should continue implementing the preventative measures in place to continue the trend. “This is not an indication to start thinking the worst is behind us and there is no longer a need to worry about the spread,” Torosyan said. As a comparison, Torosyan pointed out that Armenia had 34 cases on Friday, and 52 on Saturday. “These numbers are not absolute in their value. Each number is only relative if you don’t get into their individual components,” he said, explaining that it is important to know also how many of the new cases were people already in quarantine or the size of their contact circle. Torosyan said Armenia should ramp up its efforts to flatten the curve to preserve these relatively positive results.
The increase in numbers of confirmed cases had the following progression the recent days, 4.6%, 6.8% and 1.3% yesterday. Torosyan said that Armenia was previously at a growth rate that doubled cases every seven days. Now, it is every eight days. The strategy, according to the Minister, is to slow down this process to a point where there are as many recovered patients a day as there are new cases.
Currently, Armenia has around 1400 beds specifically reserved for COVID-19 patients. Torosyan said only half of these beds are currently in use. Many of the patients who have little or no symptoms (or health issues) are not hospitalized; they are in hotels under medical supervision.
Torosyan said 146 patients have pneumonia, about 35 people are in critical condition and eight people are in an extremely critical condition. About 1,550 people are currently in quarantine and more than 5,000 are under mandatory self-isolation.
There are more than 400 people who have been released from quarantine so far and this number will be growing.
Torosyan said, as the world learns more about the virus, international experts now advise wearing facemasks. Torosyan said that, even though there are several companies producing facemasks in Armenia, because of high demand and the rise in price of materials, the price of masks continues to be high in Armenia and the world. For that reason, the Minister said homemade masks are now advised by WHO but they must be regularly changed if they are not made of cloth or often washed in high temperature water and detergent. Torosyan said that the main role of the facemask is to stop people from touching their faces after they have come into contact with an infected surface.
Update by Armenia’s Police
Deputy Chief of Police Hayk Mhryan presented the police response as part of the effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. As of April 6, the Police accompanied cargo transport from Iran to Armenia to ensure drivers do not have any interactions that might pose health risks. Police forces also continue manning designated checkpoints and restricting entrance to Artsakh (with some exceptions). As of today, 1,908 vehicles (different modes of transportation) were allowed to enter Artsakh, while 575 others were not.
To prevent the interaction of potentially infected people with others, checkpoints were established in 27 locations, both in Yerevan and the regions, where citizens of Armenia are currently quarantined, self-isolated or are receiving treatment. According to Mhryan, police forces are also working closely with those businesses that are allowed to continue their operations during the state of emergency. Police officers are making these businesses follow the regulations and measures and what the consequences are in case of non-compliance. As a result of police monitoring, the activities of 2,164 entities have been temporarily suspended and an administrative violation report was prepared for 36 others. Police officers also continue to monitor all administrative districts of Yerevan, to make sure residents follow the restrictions imposed by the Special Commission. To date, 6,667 administrative violation reports were prepared and 1,735 decisions on administrative liability were made.
According to the Special Commission, no more than two people are allowed to be in a vehicle at the same time (except family members or people who work at the same place). So far, police officers have stopped 2,858 vehicles that were in violation of this requirement. Sixty drivers have already been fined. Mhryan went on to say that 69 special checkpoints were established to restrict the travel between regions of Armenia or administrative districts of Yerevan. Police forces are also working to identify the addresses of potentially infected people and to make sure that those who are required to self-isolate or quarantine closely follow the restrictions. Currently, 5,802 people fall in this category. As part of the restrictions, there can be no more than 20 people during funeral services and, so far, police officers have monitored 870 such services in Armenia.
Answering reporters’ questions, Mhryan acknowledged that people still continue gathering and interacting with each other in front of their buildings. He noted that the police force along with the Ministry of Emergency Situations are doing everything within their power to raise peoples’ awareness about the potential risks associated with such interactions. Mhryan also said that, as of today, six police officers have tested positive for COVID-19, while 16 others are in quarantine.
COVID-19 & the Eurasian Economic Union
During a press conference, Deputy Minister of Economy Varos Simonyan spoke about the recent decisions restricting economic activities in the territory of Armenia. According to the March 16 decision by the Eurasian Economic Commission, the customs duty for the imports of pharmaceutical and medical supplies has been abolished. During the meeting of the Commission on April 3, the list of supplies has been expanded. The list is available on the website of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Varosyan said that business entities importing the materials specified in the list will need to submit an application to the Ministry of Health. If accepted, the products can be imported to Armenia (or any other EAEU member state) without any customs duties. The regulation will affect the duties on medical supplies mentioned in the list that were imported between March 16 and September 30, 2020.
The Deputy Minister also spoke about the March 31 decision adopted by the Eurasian Economic Commission that restricts the export of goods of primary importance from the territory of EAEU between April 1 to June 30. The restrictions do not apply to internal trade among EAEU member states and to humanitarian support provided to countries that are not members of the Union.
According to the third decision of the Commission, which was adopted on April 3, the customs duties on certain products imported to the EAEU member states will be abolished. Similar to the second decision, it will be in force for three months from April 1 to June 30. The decision has not been published yet.
Varosyan also spoke about the April 3 decision by the Special Commission regarding the import and export restrictions on medical supplies. He explained that the export of medical supplies to any country is allowed only by permission of the Health Minister. Speaking about the restrictions on the list of business activities, Varosyan said that the list is being regularly updated.
The EEU Communique
On March 25, the Eurasian Economic Commission adopted a decision to exempt import customs duties on a number of imported goods with the objective of preventing the further transmission of COVID-19 across the Eurasian Economic Union. The decision applies to personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfectants, diagnostic reagents, certain types of medical equipment and materials. The goods for controlling the coronavirus infection, protecting and treating the population will be imported with exemption from import custom duties based on the intended purpose confirmed by national competent public health authorities. The Decision applies to medical goods imported into the customs territory of the Eurasian Economic Union during the period from March 16, 2020 to September 30, 2020.
On March 26, the EEC Board decided to introduce a temporary ban on exporting PPE, protective agents and disinfectants, products for medical use and materials from the customs territory of the EAEU to stabilize the situation and taking into consideration the lack of these products. The list of items prohibited for export from the EAEU customs territory includes cotton, wool, gauze fabric, bandages, masks, half-masks, face respirators, respirators, filters for personal respiratory protective equipment, protective glasses, disinfectants, protective overshoes, certain types of clothing and related accessories, and gloves. This new measure will be in place until September 30, 2020.
On March 31, the EEC Board introduced more measures aimed at establishing a temporary ban on the export of certain types of food products from EAEU countries. They include onions, garlic, turnips, rye, rice, buckwheat, millet, cereals, wholemeal flour and cereal grain granules, hulled buckwheat, prepared buckwheat foods, crushed and uncrushed soybeans and sunflower seeds. The export of these products is prohibited until June 30. According to the EAEU Commission, the introduction of the ban will ensure that the population has a sufficient amount of these goods amid the worsening sanitary and epidemiological situation.
Prime Minister Provides Updates
This morning, Prime Minister Pashinyan went live on Facebook and said that in the past 24 hours, out of 263 tests, only 11 people tested positive for COVID-19 [this brings the total number of infected in the country to 833]. Pashinyan said that compared to previous weeks, this is a very good indication, even “unprecedented.” He did admit that there were days when the percentage of people who tested positive had gone down, but they spiked the following day. In order to consider this an encouraging pattern, the Prime Minister said we would have to wait for the results of testing conducted today. Pashinyan also said that if this “positive” pattern continues, then they will be able to ease the tighter restrictions that had come into place on April 1 and people can expect to return to a “normal routine.”
After talking about the tests, Pashinyan also noted that an eighth COVID-19 patient had died.The 68-year-old patient had developed pneumonia and had pre-existing health conditions including diabetes, hypertension and other ailments.