The Armenian government announced on Monday a two-week closure of all schools and kindergartens in the country, citing an upsurge in “seasonal” infectious diseases such as flu.
Officials insisted that the measure recommended by Health Minister Harutiun Kushkian is not related to the continuing spread of swine flu which is raising growing fears among the population.
The Ministry of Education said Minister of Education Armen Ashotian ordered it after an emergency meeting with Kushkian and Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian. “Starting from tomorrow, schools and kindergartens will suspend classes until December 19 inclusive,” a ministry spokesman told RFE/RL. He said the number of children skipping classes for health reasons has surged in recent days.
Ashotian downplayed that as “an ordinary seasonal epidemic” of winter viruses that has nothing to do with swine flu. “It’s just that things are perceived more acutely this year because there is the mystery of swine flu,” he said, speaking to RFE/RL later in the day.
But Artavazd Vanian, head of the state Hygiene and Anti-Epidemiological Inspectorate, was less categorical, speaking of an outbreak of “acute respiratory viruses” and describing the school closure as a “preventive measure against all types of influenza.”
“This doesn’t mean that everyone is infected with flu and in serious condition,” said Vanian. “Even a mild cold is considered by us an acute respiratory disease.”
School officials across Yerevan confirmed that absenteeism among their students has increased lately but differed on its scale and causes. “That’s a seasonal phenomenon,” one school principal told RFE/RL. “Every year the number of absent students grows during this time.”
But the deputy headmistress of another school said the number of students absent from classes is unusually high this time around. “I have a 60 percent rate of attendance now and I don’t feel bad because I suspect that it’s not just a seasonal flu but something more dangerous,” she said.
“There are 14 students in my class. Only four of them are present today,” said one schoolteacher.
Armenian reported the first case of swine in the country on November 9. The number of people who medical authorities believe caught the H1N1 virus has since risen to 35. The authorities have registered one suspected fatality so far.