Armenia’s government closed all schools, universities and kindergartens until March 8 after reporting the first case of coronavirus in the country on Sunday.
Authorities also quarantined three dozen people who have been in contact with a 29-year-old Armenian man who tested positive for the virus overnight.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said in the morning that the infected man and his wife were among Armenian nationals evacuated from neighboring Iran on a special Tehran-Yerevan flight on Friday.
“His condition is good,” Pashinian wrote on Facebook. “He had a fever when he went to hospital. He does not have a fever right now … Incidentally, the patient’s wife tested negative.”
“All necessary measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said, adding that “all individuals who have been in risky contact with the patient will be isolated.”
Health Minister Arsen Torosian told reporters afterwards that 32 persons have been taken to a disused hotel in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor and placed under quarantine there. They include passengers of the Tehran-Yerevan flight who sat close to the infected man and an ambulance crew that transported him to a Yerevan hospital, he said.
Torosian said it makes no sense to quarantine all Armenians who have returned to Armenia from Iran since the recent outbreak of coronavirus there. At least 130 of them were airlifted from Tehran this week.
The Armenian government decided on February 24 to partly close Armenia’s border with Iran and cancel regular flights between the two for at least two weeks due to the rapid spread of the virus in the Islamic Republic. The border remains open for commercial cargo shipments mostly carried out by Iranian trucks.
According to Torosian, Iranian truck drivers’ physical contact with people in Armenia has been “minimized.” A spokeswoman for the Armenian Ministry of Health said on Saturday that the drivers are under the “24-hour surveillance” of Armenian medics and are not allowed to leave their vehicles without police escort.
Pashinian announced later in the day that classes in Armenian kindergartens, schools and universities have been suspended for one week. “We need some time to understand what’s going on,” he said in a live video addressed aired on Facebook.
Despite the prime minister’s calls to “maintain calm,” the news of the first coronavirus case detected in Armenia triggered panic buying of foodstuffs in some supermarkets in Yerevan. There were also reports that holidaymakers began cancelling hotel bookings in Tsaghkadzor for fear of being infected by the people quarantined at the secluded local hotel.
Pashinian aired another Facebook address to try to allay his fears, saying the 32 individuals are held in complete isolation from the outside world. The prime minister said that he, his wife and young children will travel to the popular ski resort 57 kilometers north of the Armenian capital in evening and spend a night there to show that “the epidemiological situation in Tsaghkadzor has not worsened.”