YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenian authorities reported the largest daily number of coronavirus deaths to date on Monday as the vast majority of Armenia’s businesses, including many cafes and restaurants, resumed their work following the end of a nationwide lockdown imposed in late March.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan defended on Sunday his government’s decision to lift remaining restrictions on people’s movements and reopen virtually all sectors of the Armenian economy despite the continuing spread of coronavirus in the country. He declared that the onus is now not only on his government but also on ordinary Armenians to contain the virus.
“We are announcing a new, decentralized phase of the fight against the novel coronavirus,” Pashinyan said during a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan and Health Minister Arsen Torosyan.
“The main reason why we are opting for such a solution is that it’s now obvious that we will have new coronavirus cases at least until March or April next year, until a vaccine is developed,” he said. “Therefore, our challenge starting from tomorrow is to do everything … so that we can live with coronavirus, rather than be locked down, because we cannot stay shut down for one year.”
“The most important nuance of the decentralized struggle is that every citizen of Armenia will shoulder responsibility for the fight against the epidemic,” added Pashinyan.
The premier renewed his calls for citizens to strictly follow social distancing rules and avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands.
He admitted that the decision to essentially end the lockdown is “creating the risk” of a faster spread of the virus.
All reopened businesses have to comply with safety requirements set by the Ministry of Health. In particular, employers must ensure physical distancing among their workers and customers, frequently disinfect premises, provide employees with hand sanitizers and measure their temperature on a daily basis. Those who have a fever must immediately leave their workplace and seek medical aid.
Wearing face masks and gloves is obligatory for only some categories of employees, notably waiters.
Meanwhile Health Minister Arsen Torosyan warned on Monday that the number of coronavirus cases in Armenia could quadruple by the end of this month, he also warned of the possibility of a prolonged and much deadlier epidemic as he met with Armenian lawmakers and answered their questions.
“If we follow [safety and hygiene] rules then we will manage to make progress,” he told members of the parliament committee on healthcare. “If we don’t we will have explosive outbreaks which will result, for example, in 500,000 infected citizens and thousands of deaths. This scenario is not implausible.”
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Torosyan clarified that the staggering numbers cited by him are based on the World Health Organization’s projections for the spread of the virus in Armenia made one month ago.
“Fortunately, that hasn’t happened because we have managed to contain the spread of infections,” he said. “Whether there will be 500,000, 100,000 or 50,000 cases is hard to tell now … but it’s our behavior that will determine their number.”
A “plausible scenario” now, he went on, is that Armenia will have 10,000 cases at the end of this month. “This number is large in the sense that it’s more than [the number of infected people] we can keep under control and we will probably send some of them home. But it’s not large in the sense that we will be able to treat severe and critical cases.”
The Ministry of Health has reported growing daily numbers of new COVID-19 infections for the last two weeks.