YEREVAN — The Armenian government will introduce a mandatory coronavirus health pass for entry to cultural and leisure venues, Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan announced on Wednesday.

Avanesyan said that her ministry will publicize a relevant directive on January 10. “It will come into force within the next 15 days,” she told a cabinet meeting in Yerevan.

The decision means that only those people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have had a recent negative test will be allowed to visit bars, restaurants and other public venues. It is part of government efforts to boost Armenia’s vaccination rate, which remains one of the lowest in Europe and Central Asia.

In Avanesyan’s words, only 722,409 making up roughly a quarter of the country’s population have been fully vaccinated so far. More than 224,000 others have received only the first dose of a vaccine.

The vaccination process accelerated after the government began requiring on October 1 virtually all workers to get inoculated or take frequent coronavirus tests at their own expense.

The Armenian Ministry of Health first announced plans for the health pass in November, prompting strong criticism from some restaurants and other affected entities. The requirement was initially expected to take effect on January 1.

The ministry is pressing ahead with the measure despite a significant drop in coronavirus cases and deaths recorded in recent weeks. It has reported between 100 and 150 cases a day for the last two weeks, sharply down from over 2,000 daily cases recorded in late October.

Only three Armenians died from COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to the ministry. A record 62 deaths caused by the disease were registered on November 2.

“If we don’t continues vaccinations in a proper manner, the [coronavirus] crisis will inevitably return,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said, commenting on Avanesyan’s announcement.

Pashinyan noted in this regard that Armenian authorities have not yet detected any cases of the more contagious Omicron variant of the virus.

“I can hardly imagine that variant not entering Armenia,” he said.

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