Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan opened the government’s daily briefing by repeating that the COVID-19 situation in Armenia continues to deteriorate. He said the number of new cases registered in the last days (with 515 new cases in the last 24 hours) seemed inexplicable to him since the government has checked and double checked the safety rules put in place by the Special Commission and have been reassured that, if the rules are followed, the numbers should begin to decline.
Pashinyan said reports from government agencies on why it is not working did not seem satisfactory and he resorted to one of his most trusted methods, he called on the people to help disclose instances of noncompliance with the rules through social media. Pashinyan said the picture that emerged was terrifying and the terrifying truth is that there is mass neglect for the rules in the Republic of Armenia. According to Pashinyan, the knee-jerk reaction would naturally be to criticize law enforcement but, upon further inspection of the situation, it became clear that we are dealing with the mirror image of the situation established during the 2018 Velvet Revolution. According to Pashinyan, even back then he announced that the efficiency of the police is inversely proportional to the volume of those disobeying. There is a volume beyond which no law enforcement agency in the would can be effective. Police interference would have been effective if the rules were ignored by only some people, but when it is the majority that at least sporadically does not follow the rules, then the situation spirals out of control.
Pashinyan said that the pictures he saw on Facebook make it clear that the rules are being ignored en masse. They managed to reveal secret wedding parties that have taken place or are being planned, graduation parties, celebratory gatherings… Pashinyan said it was clear that they are dealing with a decentralized non-compliance with the safety rules. Pashinyan said it was important for him to understand the reasons why people are careless and he believes the answer is in the fact that, in the first six months of 2020, there have been fewer deaths in Armenia than in the same period of 2019, (357 fewer total deaths from all causes).
As a result, despite the crisis brought about by the pandemic, people hear of fewer deaths and this has its subconscious effect on people. According to the Prime Minister, the reasons for the decrease in total deaths are twofold. First, coronavirus absorbed the usual statistical deaths; people with similar health problems who in 2019 died of their ailment, this year died of COVID-19. Second, a larger number of people received healthcare this year due to the pandemic response. Many who were hospitalized were treated not just for COVID-19 but also for any other accompanying health issues they had.
Pashinyan said he wants to thank all the citizens who took part in the social surveillance yesterday and today because it helped authorities understand the essence of the issue at hand. Today, after registering an array of violations from the banking system to the service sector to schools, Pashinyan said he believed Armenia has succeeded in a mini revolution because, during the day today, through a collaborative effort, we were able to achieve a tangible increase in compliance.
Pashinyan said he intends to continue this process and again called on citizens to send images of the violations they encounter to his Facebook Page with as much specific information as possible about the time and place. Pashinyan said his team will provide communication between the reports of violations and law enforcement. According to the Prime Minister, law enforcement has the same capacity problem as the Ministry of Health: the volume of violations needs to be brought down to an extent that the police force can manage.
Arman Sargsyan, the Chief of Police, said that police officers continue to ensure that people follow the anti-epidemic rules and guidelines. He noted that they will also continue conducting targeted monitoring in different administrative districts of Yerevan. In some of the districts, monitoring was conducted several times after reports of violations were filed, to ensure that those citizens and business entities comply with the set rules. Police are conducting monitoring together with the inspection bodies and without prior notice. Sargsyan mentioned that, since the State of Emergency (SOE) was introduced, police officers filed 20,742 reports on administrative violations; 931 of which were yesterday alone. Most of the reports were filed because citizens did not have a face mask when outside or did not wear those masks where they are required to (in a car/public transport, bus stop, etc.)
The Police Chief also spoke about the incident that took place in Meymandar market in Armavir yesterday, where merchants started protesting the decision of the Special Commission to close the market for 24 hours because violations of the rules were registered. He went on to say that merchants committed acts of hooliganism and a criminal case was launched as a result. The case is already being reviewed by the Investigative Committee. Over 30 people that participated in the incident were arrested. Sargsyan urged citizens to follow the rules and regulations set by the Special Commission and not intervene in the work of police officers and employees of monitoring bodies. He went on to assure that any similar acts in the future will receive a strong response.
Raising citizens’ awareness about the decisions of the Special Commission is among the responsibilities of the police. Sargsyan clarified that police officers conduct those activities in various neighborhoods as well as during funeral services (which recently have become a major vector for the spread of the virus). He said that the ultimate goal of the work of police and other government agencies is to protect citizens’ health and safety.
Before giving the floor to Tigran Avinyan, the Warden of the Special Commission, Pashinyan reaffirmed that collaboration and discussion are at the core of the Government’s strategy to fight the virus. He said that, by acting together and following the rules of the Special Commission, we can bring the current situation under control.
Avinyan presented the issues that were discussed during today’s session of the Special Commission and the new decisions that were made as a result. He reminded that, up until now, it was required to wear face masks in closed spaces, public transport, at bus stops as well as while shopping. Citizens were also required to have face masks with them when outside. According to the new decision of the Commission, citizens will be required to wear a face mask everywhere outside their place of residence, with the exception of children under the age of six. Wearing a face mask will also not be required while exercising or cycling. Avinyan explained that the goal of the initial decision was to ensure that the transition to the new situation is taken step-by-step. He went on to say that he understands that the new rule will result in a lot of inconveniences for citizens, especially during current weather conditions. Avinyan noted that wearing a face mask is one of the proven effective measures that substantially limits the intensity of the virus’ transmission. He said that, although medical face masks are more effective than the masks made at home, both minimize the risk of infection.
The Special Commission has also discussed the handling of the situation by the healthcare system and the capacity to treat new patients infected with COVID-19. Avinyan mentioned some of the extreme measures that the government may use, such as a return to the restrictions on movement and economic activity, or introducing a curfew regime. At this point, however, the government will continue enforcing the existing rules and conducting regular monitoring activities. Avinyan joined the PM Pashinyan and Police Chief Sargsyan in noting that no form of oversight will be effective without a behavioral change. He said that we live in difficult times and that calls for bringing everyone out of their comfort zone. Avinyan once again stressed the importance of the three simple rules: wearing a face mask, maintaining physical distancing and disinfecting/washing hands regularly. He urged businesses to allow their employees to work remotely, if possible.
Gala TV, Armenuhi Vartanyan: Is it possible that there may be resignations related to failures in the fight against coronavirus? We mainly hear citizens being accused, does your government also not have its share of guilt? What was the mistake that is now leading us closer to numbers equal to Italy’s?
Pashinyan: Our main aim is for the virus to regress and this is something we should achieve together. As for accusations, it is not true that the citizens are getting the main share of guilt. These are not accusations but rather an evaluation of the situation. We need to diagnose the situation, understand what has not been done right or what needs to be done but is not being done. Accusations can be voiced when there is a victim and one side has caused harm. We are all both victims and the ones who brought about harm. There is one solution and it is public surveillance of the situation, where each person checks their own behavior.
New Armenia TV, Paylak Fahradyan: You said during yesterday’s briefing that there are 2-3 days left to turn the situation around. Was this [announcement] not made late and how do you evaluate the work of the police force in enforcing the safety rules?
Pashinyan: I have already spoken about the police, but I will give you an example. We have checkpoints on the roads to make sure people are wearing masks in their cars. They put one on before approaching the checkpoint and take it off after passing. This is not an accusation nor praise; this is the situation. To be honest, yesterday I was more critical of the police work than I am today after I saw the terrifying volume of violations. We should be one force in this fight because there are instances when the police officers themselves do not follow the safety rules. I myself got infected, meaning that I too failed at some point. Citizens also made mistakes. Let us take this moment to reset and bring the situation back under control.
Sevan to Remain in Lockdown
Gnel Sanosyan, the Regional Governor of Gegharkunik, informs that by the decision of the Special Commission, the lockdown on the city of Sevan has been extended by a week and will last until 11:59 p.m. on June 10.
Restrictions to movement in and out of Sevan began at 6 p.m. on May 25 and were scheduled to expire on June 3. Exceptions are made to supply food, medicine, fuel and other basic necessities. To ensure compliance, checkpoints were set up by police and the National Security Service (NSS).
School Principals Reprimanded
Arayik Harutyunyan, the Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, said in a Facebook Live that the Ministry has received information about crowding in some schools where diplomas are being distributed and textbooks are being returned. Harutyunyan stressed that it is the responsibility of principals to prevent crowding inside and in front of their schools.
Harutyunyan said that the Ministry (including him personally) will be closely monitoring the schools about which they have been tipped off. He specifically mentioned a photo that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had posted on Facebook of a school on Aram Khachatryan Street.
Harutyunyan reminded that, during the last Government session, he urged school principals to ensure that large-scale gatherings are not organized. He said that the principals of those schools where such gatherings were held, despite the warnings by the Ministry, will be held responsible for not following the anti-epidemic rules and guidelines. He stressed that the Ministry did not impose deadlines for handing out diplomas.
Situation in Artsakh
The Ministry of Health of Artsakh reported three new cases of COVID-19. The patients had arrived from Russia and were immediately quarantined. To date, there have been 57 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Artsakh, with 26 recoveries and no deaths; 98 people are under quarantine. A total of 984 tests have been conducted.
Update on the Number of Cases
The Ministry of Health reported 515 new cases of COVID-19 and 27 recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 10,524, of which 6,841 are active cases and 3,454 have already recovered. Twelve COVID-19 patients (the average age of the deceased is 71), who all had pre-existing health conditions, died bringing the total number of deaths to 170. Three COVID-19 patients also died but the virus was not the cause of death; 59 such cases have been reported. To date, 61,650 tests have been conducted, of which 1,733 were in the last 24 hours.
Armenian Child Diagnosed With Kawasaki Syndrome
Arsen Torosyan, the Health Minister said in a Facebook post that a four-year-old child, who was also infected with COVID-19 but was asymptomatic, has been diagnosed with Kawasaki syndrome. He noted that other countries had recorded a recent increase in the number of children with Kawasaki syndrome, which some researchers say is connected with the COVID-19 pandemic. The cause of the syndrome is not fully known but it is mainly associated with the body’s autoimmune response to infectious diseases. It is most common among children under five years old.
The Minister said that, considering the international statistics, the Ministry has acquired expensive immunoglobulin drugs specifically for the treatment of this syndrome. He once again urged everyone to follow the anti-epidemic rules, wear a face mask, wash/disinfect hands. He went on to say that it is necessary to limit all discretionary contact with one another to break the transmission chains of the virus.
Pashinyan Defends Public Shaming
Last night, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan began posting photos on his Facebook page of people violating the safety regulations. He also issued calls for others to do the same kind of public shaming. This was met with criticism on social media platforms. In response to those critiques, Pashinyan went live to explain the motivation behind his actions.
He said he has been accused of shifting the blame and trying to find “culprits” for the current situation and said that the criticism is absurd, especially as he has tested positive for COVID-19 and has infected his family members as well. The issue here is not about assigning blame, he said, but rather for everyone to acknowledge the situation, to recognize our problems. We have known for a long time what our problem is, Pashinyan said, adding that he has spoken about these issues for years and that includes the issue of learning to stand in queues. The issue is not about rooting out people who are guilty, the issue is about our parents, about the country’s national security. He asked if we want to be able to overcome this situation or not. The issue is very simple, the rules and regulations clearly defined. Pashinyan said that abiding by the regulations will resolve the probability of infection by 95%.
He said that monitoring of the situation has revealed that the biggest issue is with the banking system and Pashinyan said that he has spoken with the Governor of the Central Bank and the Ministry of High-Tech Industry in this regard. He said the alternative to following instructions is to have police with batons manning those queues in front of banks. He reiterated that the issue at hand is not trying to find the guilty parties, but to improve everyone’s safety.
He said that we, as a society, have a problem with following orders and we need to be able to face that reality, which has been a problem for a very long time. Pashinyan said that he had a very serious conversation yesterday with the Chief of Police, the Director of the National Security Service and Inspectorate bodies. He stressed that the issue is about personal behavior and social responsibility and that we are all to blame.
He spoke about the photo taken during the inauguration ceremony of the President of Artsakh [where Armenian and Artsakh leaders were standing in close proximity, making a toast around a table without masks] that has been circulating on social media platforms. He said that that ceremony took place in Artsakh under a different framework of legal regulations. He noted that what he is talking about now is the accumulation of people in front of banks and that no law or regulation was violated in Shushi during the inauguration.
Pashinyan said he led the revolution through communication, through speaking with people directly and that is how he became Prime Minister. “What am I supposed to do now? Bring out the spetsnaz (Special Forces) to beat people into submission?” he said. “How could I bring myself to do that?” He continued by saying that it goes against who he is, that the Armenian people succeeded because they spoke to each other, listened and heard one another. “You only use batons against criminal elements, not against your own people,” he said.
The banking system must now resolve its problems, including HayPost and other markets. This does not mean we will not use administrative resources when necessary, he said. Last night, almost three dozen people were arrested in Meymandar, Armavir and a criminal case was launched [yesterday the Special Commission decided to close the market in Meymandar for 24 hours because of the registered violations, but the merchants started protesting the decision and claiming that the agricultural products will spoil as a result of the closure]. Pashinyan explained that they have asked people to follow the rules, so that others do not die.
The Prime Minister said that a number of municipalities had organized festivities for June 1 (International Children’s Day). These local administrations must be occupied with ensuring that safety guidelines are being met, he said adding that citizens, all of us must publicly shame one another. If the people are to blame, then the government is to blame and the same holds true – if the government is to blame, then so are the people because it is the people who brought this government. We are one body, one organism, one whole, whether we are good or bad and I am convinced that we are good, he said.
The atmosphere of fear has been obliterated but we are now using this new-found freedom against ourselves, Pashinyan noted, adding that he believed in the people.
The healthcare system has and continues to function at maximum capacity. If everyone in Armenia is infected, not everyone will be able to receive treatment. He said that there have been 36 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Gloria factory in Vanadzor alone [last month, employees were protesting to have the factory re-open]. The Prime Minister called on the people, including businesses to strictly follow the safety regulations.