YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenia reported three new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the total of confirmed cases to four as the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the disease a pandemic.
In a Facebook post Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that two of the people testing positive for the coronavirus infection known as COVID-19 are citizens of Armenia aged 45 and 27 and one is a 51-year-old Italian who works in Armenia.
“All three had arrived from Italy,” he said, adding that authorities are currently looking to determine the scope of their contacts for further quarantine, which, “according to preliminary data, is not large”.
According to the Armenian premier, the Italian citizen and one of the citizens of Armenia do not have any complaints, while one of the citizens of Armenia is suffering from pneumonia. The patients, according to Pashinyan, were registered as soon as they arrived in Armenia.
“Anticipating criticism as to why no decision had been made to stop flights from Italy, I’d say that we have discussed this possibility several times, arriving at the obvious conclusion that potential carriers could come to Armenia from countries neighboring Italy — France, Austria, because no borders are used inside the EU. That is to say, we would have to shut down other European destinations following the same logic, especially since the coronavirus infection is spreading to other European countries as well. Now the airlines have decided to stop flights from Italy,” Pashinyan wrote.
Armenia reported its first coronavirus case on March 1. A 29-year-old citizen of Armenia who had been evacuated from coronavirus-hit Iran along with scores of others had tested positive and was hospitalized. Thirty-one other citizens who may have had close contact with the infected person had also been placed under a two-week quarantine in a disused hotel in Armenia’s resort town of Tsaghkadzor.
Pashinyan said that those quarantined in Tsaghkadzor and the first diagnosed patient feel good and have no complaints. At the same time, he called on people to remain calm and follow recommendations of the Ministry of Health regarding basic protective measures against the new coronavirus.
Since the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Armenia authorities in Yerevan tightened controls at the border with Iran and re-introduced entry visas for Iranian citizens.
On March 10, Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Armenian citizens to strictly refrain from visiting Italy, which appears to be the country hit by COVID-19 the hardest outside of China, with the number of infected exceeding 10,000 and 631 confirmed deaths.
The Ministry also urged Armenian citizens who are already in Italy to “urgently suspend their trips and return to Armenia.”
That same day budget airline Ryanair announced suspension of all flights from Yerevan to Italy and back until April 8.
Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan announced later today that a charter flight from Rome to Yerevan will be organized on March 15 to evacuate Armenian citizens from Italy. He said that the Armenian government, the Armenian airline, Atlantis European Airways, and the Armenia International Airports company will cover the financial expenses connected with the flight.
“The time of the flight and the airport from which it is to be operated will be reported additionally through Armenia’s embassy in Italy,” Avinyan said on Facebook.
“I urge Armenian citizens who are in Italy for short-term visits, study and business trips to contact our embassy within the shortest possible time,” he added.