YEREVAN — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reaffirmed on Friday his government’s plans to gradually reopen more sectors of Armenia’s economy, again insisting that the coronavirus epidemic in the country is “manageable.”

Pashinyan cautioned, however, that the “return to normal life” will be conditional on employers and other Armenians taking necessary precautions against the highly contagious virus.

“As long as a vaccine has not been developed, coronavirus will not disappear and we will have infected people,” he said in a televised address to the nation. “Accordingly, our strategic objective is as follows: to make sure that the number of infected people is as small as possible and bearable for the healthcare system.”

“On the other hand, we cannot be endlessly locked down and live in an endless quarantine or state of emergency,” he went on. “Therefore, our strategic objective is to live parallel to coronavirus or alongside it, if necessary. We need to use the upcoming period of emergency rule for acquiring necessary skills to do just that.

“What does this mean in practice? We are step by step allowing the resumption of economic activity in various spheres but expect special responsibility from employers, who must put in place special conditions for coronavirus safety in factories, workshops and construction sites. Or else, we will have to toughen restrictions.”

For their part, workers and other citizens must strictly follow social distancing rules, avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands and use only clean tableware, added Pashinyan.

“We must redouble our vigilance during the rest of emergency rule,” Pashinyan said in his address. “If we do so, we will step by step return to normal life already from May 14.”

“If we don’t … the virus may spread with renewed vigor and lead us to a humanitarian disaster,” he warned.

 

Pashinyan touted in his speech the measures designed to cushion the economic impact of the nationwide lockdown. In particular, he said the government has allocated 16.5 billion drams ($34 million) for cheap credit which Armenian banks are due to provide to thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises and farmers. The government will also provide 1.3 billion drams in grants to those SMEs that have not laid off workers since March, he said.

The prime minister also pointed to a total of some 7 billion drams in one-off cash handouts planned or already paid to about 100,000 socially vulnerable citizens. They include employees of private firms forced to suspend their operations, microbusiness owners, self-employed and unregistered workers as well as some pregnant women. In addition, the government decided this week to partly compensate 515,000 households for their natural gas and electricity bills for February.

The Armenian Ministry of Health reported in the morning that the number of coronavirus cases rose by 42, to 1,201, in the past 24 hours. It also said that a 58-year-old man suffering from other pre-existing conditions died from the virus on Thursday, raising the country’s COVID-19 death toll to 19.

According to the ministry, the daily number of people who recovered from the disease again surpassed that of new infections. Pashinyan stressed the fact that the health authorities continue to use only half of Armenia’s hospital capacity in the fight against the virus.

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