The Armenian government on Friday suspended for two months visa free-travel between Armenia and China, citing the need to guard against a new coronavirus that has killed more than 200 people in China.
A bilateral agreement allowing Armenian and Chinese citizens to stay in each other’s country visa-free for up to 90 days was signed last year and went into force as recently on January 19.
Its suspension announced by Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian means that Chinese nationals travelling to Armenia between February 1 and March 31 will need to have Armenian visas. Avinian attributed the decision to the “epidemiological situation conditioned by the coronavirus.”
The government announced earlier in the day that it has set up an interagency commission tasked with preventing the spread of the deadly disease to Armenia. The commission is headed by Avinian.
The government warned Armenians against all travel to China last week. It also banned imports of Chinese food and raw materials.
Health authorities say they are monitoring all people arriving from China to Armenia via third countries.
Health Minister Arsen Torosian told reporters on Friday that the authorities are not yet equipped to definitively detect the coronavirus there is a “99.9 percent likelihood” of the absence of any cases in Armenia.He said they will receive laboratory equipment and materials for coronavirus tests in the coming days.
“Up until now Armenian citizens returning from China and Chinese citizens [visiting Armenia] … have had no symptoms characteristic of the coronavirus,” he said.
According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, some 400 Armenians lived in China before the outbreak of the virus which the World Health Organization declared a global emergency on Thursday. At least six of them remain in the Chinese city of Wuhan lying at the epicenter of the outbreak.
A young man in Yerevan, Erik Khachikian, claimed on Thursday that doctors at a local policlinic refused to examine his condition after he told them that he lived in another Chinese city, Xian, and returned to Armenia just days ago.
“Such things are unacceptable,” Torosian said in this regard. He pledged to “take measures” over Khachikian’s claims.
At least 213 people in China have died from the coronavirus, with nearly 10,000 cases registered. A total of 98 cases have been confirmed in 18 other countries, but no deaths outside of China have been recorded, according to the WHO.