Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan spoke first:
- We have 566 new cases in Armenia in the last 24 hours and this number is a reflection of our behavior seven to fourteen days ago.
- We continue to be convinced that the safety rules, if followed, can bring new infections down to zero.
- We will see the results of our behavior in seven to fourteen days because that is the incubation period of the virus. By our actions today, we can impact how many cases we will have in a week or two.
- The State of Emergency (SOE) will be discussed at an extraordinary (not pre-scheduled) Government session tomorrow. The SOE will be extended for another month as the underlying cause justifying the SOE has not yet been eliminated.
- The Government session will be followed by a special sitting of Parliament, where recent developments will be discussed.
- We have a chance to bring new cases down to zero in the upcoming seven to fourteen days and stop the virus in its tracks.
Tigran Gevorgyan, a doctor with the Ambulance Center spoke next:
- He thanked all those citizens who are following the anti-epidemic regulations introduced by the Special Commission and by their actions ensure that the healthcare system does not collapse.
- As a doctor working at the Ambulance Center, Gevorgyan noted that doctors are doing an enormous amount of work, which includes caring for patients in medical centers and specialized hospitals.
- According to the latest regulations, patients whose temperature is below 38 degrees Celsius and blood oxygen saturation is over 93% are not hospitalized and should receive the necessary treatment at polyclinics.
- Doctors working at the Ambulance Center are among those who are tasked with ensuring that patients with mild symptoms are being monitored by polyclinics. Since some of the Ambulance Center doctors started working in hospitals, the Center has become overloaded.
- The number of calls to the Ambulance Center has, of course, increased during the pandemic. The calls are mostly from citizens who have a fever but do not know whether they are infected with coronavirus. The increased number of calls has to do with the fact that people are concerned and do not want to infect others.
- Gevorgyan urged citizens to strictly follow the three basic rules: correctly wear a face mask, disinfect hands regularly, maintain physical distancing and avoid all unnecessary contact with other people.
Minister of Territorial Administration and Development, Suren Papikyan spoke next:
- Territorial administration and local self governance bodies (municipal governments) have been recently tasked with overseeing that safety rules are abided by during gatherings and the number of attendees does not exceed that permitted by the Special Commission. Large unpermitted gatherings, such as birthday celebrations, weddings and funerals continue to be a problem.
- This is a difficult situation to control as it involves working with citizens in very emotional circumstances.
- The Minister called on everyone to follow the instructions of the administration and the police, underscoring that they are not a whim or someone’s preference, but that it is every citizen’s obligation to help stop the spread of the virus.
- Law enforcement is closely monitoring the work of entertainment establishments where weddings are usually organized. However, a sense of personal responsibility, rather than the ban in place, should be the reason to organize events in accordance with the regulations.
Zhoghovurd Daily, Naira Hovhannisyan: The opposition Bright Armenia Party announced that the Government’s COVID-19 strategy has failed and that they will be held accountable after the pandemic. The opposition Prosperous Armenia Party is saying that the entire government needs to be replaced, including the Prime Minister. How do you respond to such criticism?
Nikol Pashinyan: After we overcome the pandemic, we will need to examine the behaviour of some political forces during the crisis and how their actions affected the Government’s efforts to halt the spread of the virus. It will also be necessary to investigate and see whether some political forces have been involved in spreading disinformation. Although I do not entirely agree with the comparisons that some draw between the current situation and a war, I will say that those who pursue “destructive actions” during a war are held accountable.
In its fight against the coronavirus, the Republic of Armenia has failed as much as other countries have failed (among them very developed ones). Of course, the Government of Armenia faced problems in its fight against the pandemic, again as other governments also did. However, there are political forces in Armenia for whom life has become “brighter” or more “prosperous” because of the pandemic [referring to the opposition Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia parties]. Amid an epidemic, they have seen an opportunity for a revival. It is important to distinguish those who feel distressed from those who are pleased with the situation caused by COVID-19. We can evaluate the results of the Government’s fight against the coronavirus when the pandemic is over. The pandemic is not over yet.
Novosti Armenia, Yelena Davtyan: Do you admit that Armenia is losing the fight against the pandemic? What initiatives will you be taking in the future to overcome this crisis? Will the Armenian government be asking for monetary or medical assistance from the international community?
Nikol Pashinyan: I have already partially answered that question. As for asking for assistance, first and foremost we have been asking for the assistance of the citizens of Armenia and our message is the following: Help us help you and let us work together in overcoming this problem. We have asked people to do three simple things: properly wear their mask, disinfect their hands and follow the rules for physical distancing, not organize secret weddings and turn a joyous event into a family tragedy. If the numbers remain at this week’s levels, our healthcare system is now prepared to carry the burden. There are partner countries who have expressed their willingness to assist Armenia and it is very important for us to not turn down their expression of goodwill. We believe that friends stick together through hard times and we will accept their assistance as a token of friendship, of political partnership and lastly as healthcare assistance. As part of the “crises as an opportunity” approach, we will continue to deepen and institutionalize partnerships with friends. We thank them for the assistance and are ready to offer our assistance to them in times of need.
Georgia to Send Medics to Armenia
Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced today that a team of Georgian doctors will be sent to Armenia. Gakharia said no country is able to combat the pandemic alone and that he is in daily communication with Armenia’s Prime Minister. The Georgian health, economy and foreign affairs ministries are also in constant contact with their Armenian counterparts: “We should show reciprocal support to one another… We have already identified the kind of assistance needed by our neighbor and the Ministry of Health has been instructed to put it together. Initially this assistance will be in the form of sending medical staff.”
According to a communique by the Armenian Ministry of Health, following a conversation between the two Health Ministers, the two sides agreed to set up a medical experience exchange platform. They also decided to start joint strategy discussions in preparation for an expected second wave of the virus in the fall.
During this week’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan noted that COVID-19 remains the Government’s number one priority and asked Health Minister Arsen Torosyan to provide updates on the situation in the country. Torosyan noted that, compared to yesterday’s results, the number of confirmed cases for one day has increased from 428 to 566. He explained that, although this is a significant increase, the number of tests that were conducted within the last 24 hours has also increased from 1751 to 2230. Unfortunately, 18 patients died, bringing the total number of deaths to 245. The Minister said that, as of yesterday, 500 patients were in critical or extremely critical condition, but healthcare centers were not overloaded and had enough ICU beds to treat more patients in critical condition. He went on to say that, as of 9 a.m. today, there are only 32 patients that were awaiting specialized care (four are in their homes while the remaining 28 are in hospitals but need to be transferred to specialized medical centers).
Torosyan noted that the overall situation in the country remains critical but the healthcare system continues to expand its capacity. He noted, however, that the Ministry is working to further strengthen preventive mechanisms to keep the situation under control. Torosyan also said that it is extremely important to strengthen monitoring efforts to ensure citizens and businesses are complying with the rules. He did not exclude the possibility that restrictions may need to be tightened once again.
PM Pashinyan reaffirmed that the Government’s first priority is to curb the spread of the virus by ensuring strict compliance with the anti-epidemic guidelines. Pashinyan brought up the three basic rules (wear a face mask, disinfect hands and maintain physical distancing) and said that experience shows these three simple measures can eliminate close to 95% of registered cases. He also said that funerals remain a major source of new infections and highlighted the role of the police and local self-government bodies in ensuring compliance. Another major concern is “underground weddings.” Pashinyan urged citizens to take the current situation seriously and cooperate with the Government to address the crisis at hand.
Update on the Situation in Artsakh
The Health Ministry of the Republic of Artsakh has reported four new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infected to 68. The Ministry said contact tracing is underway. Currently, 79 people are in quarantine and 43 COVID-19 patients have recovered. To date, 1,224 tests have been conducted.
Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan signed a decree today to extend the Emergency Situation in the republic for another 30 days, until July 11, 2020. As a reminder, an emergency situation was initially declared on April 12 and had been extended to June 11.
Update on Number of Cases
The Ministry of Health reported 566 new cases of COVID-19 and 240 recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 14,669, of which 8,876 are active cases and 5,466 have already recovered. Eighteen COVID-19 patients (the youngest aged 58 and the oldest 86), who all had pre-existing health conditions, died bringing the total number of deaths to 245. Five other patients with COVID-19 also died, but the virus was not the cause of death; 82 such cases have been reported. To date, 75,389 tests have been conducted, of which 2,230 were in the last 24 hours.
Arsen Torosyan: “About honesty, sincerity and accepting mistakes”
Last night, in a Facebook Live, which he entitled “About honesty, sincerity and accepting mistakes,” Health Minister Arsen Torosyan spoke about the COVID-19 situation in the country. He said that the past four and a half months have given them the opportunity to learn many things.
Calling it an “honest conversation,” Torosyan went on to explain the basis and the principles guiding their decisions and apologized for the mistakes made since the government, and namely the Health Ministry, has come under excessive criticism for missteps. Torosyan said there is still much that is unknown about the virus, from how long the incubation phase of the virus is to whether or not asymptomatic patients can infect others to which medication is best to use for treatment. The list included challenges like deciding whether to stockpile specific medications when later data suggest it may be ineffective. Torosyan said that different countries have chosen to adopt one strategy over another while navigating these unknowns. He went on to say that it is natural for decisions to change under such circumstances. For example, despite the initial urgency to acquire ventilators, later on, ordinary oxygen masks were deemed a more essential necessity. The Minister also spoke about facemasks, which the WHO initially recommended be left for medical professionals only. According to Torosyan, it later became clear that the use of facemasks by the general population did slow down the spread of the virus.
Torosyan said one of the biggest advantages of this government is that they never concealed any information (regarding numbers, needs, issues), were forthcoming and honest about the situation and the basis of their decisions and will continue that approach. According to Torosyan, the government’s learning curve for dealing with the pandemic was transparent and open to the public as they strategized integrating new information about the virus.
The Health Minister also said that he is thankful for some of the criticism, which has allowed the Ministry to evaluate and correct its actions. He went on to say that the crisis tested and revealed the system’s ability to mobilize and act accordingly. The outcome reassures Torosyan that Armenia has the capacity to take on this crisis and others that may come in the future.