During his daily briefing, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Armenia’s COVID-19 situation continues to deteriorate. Yesterday, there were 460 new cases. Per capita figures have surpassed those of Iran and France and are now on par with those of Russia. If this pace continues, Armenia will soon reach per capita numbers similar to Italy’s. The accelerated spread of the virus has resulted in more patients in critical and serious condition and an increase in the number of deaths.
Pashinyan noted that the current situation is a result of not following the anti-epidemic rules and regulations and of not taking the situation seriously. He said that, starting from today, the employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations were in different administrative districts of Yerevan, urging citizens to correctly wear face masks, maintain social distance of at least one meter, regularly disinfect hands and avoid being in contact with non-family members without wearing a face mask. In cases where a family displays symptoms, is isolated or is possibly infected with the virus, wearing a face mask should be a requirement. Pashinyan once again urged citizens to wear face masks because it can save hundreds of lives.
Face masks need to be changed every three to four hours and people do not necessarily need to wear the ones sold in pharmacies; hand-made face masks are equally preferable. Pashinyan clarified that people can easily make a few face masks at home, use them during the day, and use them again the next day after washing and disinfecting them. The PM went on to thank all those citizens who follow the anti-epidemic guidelines set by the Special Commission and expressed hope that they will continue to do so. Pashinyan assured that strict adherence to the rules introduced by the Special Commission will not only bring down the number of confirmed cases but also help to overcome the pandemic.
Pashinyan also spoke about recent reports by international media that, since March 31, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended patients infected with COVID-19 and people taking care of those patients to wear face masks. Pashinyan explained that, when the announcement by the WHO was made, there was a global shortage of face masks. He also said that, because the world is dealing with a novel coronavirus, concerns over the effectiveness of certain measures are very likely. Pashinyan urged citizens to support the efforts of police officers, employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, inspection bodies as well as healthcare workers and thanked them for their service to halt the spread of the virus.
Artavazd Vanyan, the Director of the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reaffirmed that, because of the ongoing spread of the virus, the situation in the country remains serious. He noted that their strategy in the early stages of the virus was to identify all those infected with COVID-19. Similar to other countries, Armenia also introduced certain restrictions, which cannot be implemented over a long period of time and so new measures need to be introduced. First, Vanyan noted that the Center’s work will continue being directed towards early detection of infected patients, contact tracing and isolation of possibly infected patients. Secondly, he urged business entities (which can easily become new sources for the spread of the virus) to closely follow the regulations introduced by the Special Commission, develop a new behavior towards the virus and learn how to live alongside the virus. Third, Vanyan stressed the role of citizens who, through simple behavioral changes, can minimize the risk of spreading the virus (the simple rules mentioned by Pashinyan). He stressed the importance following those rules during funerals and gatherings and around people who do not exhibit any of the symptoms of the virus.
The Prime Minister then invited the Director of the St. Grigor Lusavorich Hospital, Arman Hovakimyan, to provide updates on the situation at the hospital. Since April 2, the hospital was re-profiled to provide healthcare services to patients infected with COVID-19. Today, it has the largest bed capacity. Approximately 500 beds, of which 80 are for ICU patients. Today, 95% of the beds in the ICU unit are occupied and about 80% of the remaining 420 beds are occupied, Hovakimyan said. To date, the hospital has accepted 1470 people infected with the virus, of which 450 have been critical or severely critical patients. I have to note that the critically ill require ICU care, which is the most burdened. The director appealed to people to follow all the safety regulations set in place by the Special Commission because, in the last days, taking into consideration the peculiarities of the virus and the rapid transmission, the number of critically ill patients has increased. The objective of this call is to prevent a collapse in the healthcare system, so that all our medical staff who are on the frontlines, who are battling daily in this warlike situation, can provide proper medical care and help to all citizens in need.
Yerkir Media, Tamara Gasparyan: There is a deficit of medical staff to fight against COVID-19 and provide proper medical assistance. Aside from making statements/announcements, what steps are being taken to fill that gap. If you cannot find medical experts to fill that gap, how will treatment be secured? And are medical staff being remunerated relative to the danger they are facing in the treatment of coronavirus?
Prime Minister Pashinyan: The Health Ministry has informed that the salary of medical staff that are working to treat COVID-19 patients has increased on average by 2-3 times. The salary increase has been allocated from the donation fund according to the expertise of the medical worker. First responders have also received bonuses. The Health Ministry has also secured lodging and food for all medical staff. Regarding the deficit of medical staff, currently the healthcare system needs anesthesiologists and ICU doctors. The Ministry has been able to supply other staffing requirements through a large number of volunteers and clinical specialists.
In this context, the Health Ministry and the Government have taken measures to increase the capability and capacity of staff working in ICUs.
Factor Information Center, Nelly Melkumyan: The WHO has defined six criteria that countries that have lifted quarantines must apply. Of those, the transmission of the disease must be manageable, the healthcare system of those countries must be able to test, quarantine and treat infected patients and do contact tracing; the worrisome statistics of the last 25 days, the fact that there are only 30 available ICU beds, the need for ICU doctors and taking into consideration the announcements made by the Health Minister, can you continue to insist that Armenia corresponds to WHO criteria and how much worse can it become before a decision is made to return to a strict quarantine?
Prime Minister Pashinyan: The World Health Organization is guided by health criteria. Armenia, like many other countries, has economic, security and other needs, including social needs. Many countries not meeting those criteria have lifted quarantines. With regard to how much worse must the situation become, that depends on each of us and I am hopeful that, through our combined efforts in changing public behavior, we will not be forced to return to a strict quarantine. Nobody wants the situation to develop in such a way that we will be forced to enter another lockdown. I want to say and reassure everyone once again, after consulting with experts, if Armenia’s citizens follow the regulations – wear masks, maintain physical distancing, frequently wash/disinfect hands and not touch their faces – we can very quickly have a decrease in the number of infections. We have chosen and are going on this path as long as we can, by transmitting this message to our population: Save a life, wear a mask. If people are not concerned about their own health and safety, I believe that as is appropriate for our nation, we care twice, three, four times as much for the health and wellbeing of others. These measures are necessary, not only for ourselves, but for vulnerable groups – older people, those with preexisting health conditions – and I do not doubt that our people will do this.
Violations and Shut Downs
According to the Armenian Unified Information Center, as of May 29, there have been 15,241 registered violations of the rules of the State of Emergency. On May 28, 863 violations were registered.
As a result of monitoring undertaken by inspectorate bodies (17,572 inspections), as of May 29, operations of 1156 businesses have been suspended for 24 hours.
Update on the Number of Cases
The Ministry of Health reported 460 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 8,676, of which 5,214 are active cases and 3,297 have already recovered. Seven COVID-19 patients (ages 42, 56, 59, 64, 65, 66 and 72), who all had pre-existing health conditions, except the 56-year-old, died bringing the total number of deaths to 120. Another COVID-19 patient died but the virus was not the cause of death; to date 45 such cases have been reported. To date, 56,042 tests have been conducted, of which 1111 were in the last 24 hours.