Armenia will restore the visa regime with neighboring Iran and tighten controls at the partly closed Armenian-Iranian border in an effort to prevent more cases of coronavirus in the South Caucasus country, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Monday.
One day after Armenian authorities reported the first such case, Pashinian also urged Armenians to avoid nonessential travel to Italy and Turkey.
The infected person, a 29-year-old male, was among 130 or so Armenian nationals airlifted from Tehran to Yerevan last week amid a rapid spread of coronavirus in Iran. The Islamic Republic’s official death toll from the virus reached 54 on Sunday evening.
“We have decided to extend and tighten restrictions on communication through the Armenian-Iranian border,” Pashinian said at a meeting of an interagency task force coordinating coronavirus-related measures taken by the Armenian government. “We will start a process of temporarily restoring the visa regime with Iran and the visa regime will be restored within five days.”
“Of course, we remain in constant touch with our Iranian partners,” he added. “We want to express our solidarity with the friendly people and government of Iran in the task of overcoming this difficult situation, and we will assist them to the best of our ability.”
The Armenian government decided on February 24 to essentially close the Iranian border for individual travel and to cancel regular flights between the two states for at least two weeks. The border, which serves as one of landlocked Armenia’s two conduits to the outside world, remains open for cargo shipments.
Pashinian indicated that his government will impose additional restrictions on the cargo traffic mostly carried out by Iranian trucks. He did not elaborate.
Speaking at the meeting, Health Minister Arsen Torosian said that Iranian trucks entering Armenia are already escorted by police and officials from his ministry. Ministry officials are also monitoring the health condition of their drivers, he said.
Pashinian also called on Armenians to “limit as much as possible” trips to coronavirus-hit Italy as well as Turkey. But he spoke out against suspending flights from Yerevan to Milan, Rome and Istanbul, saying that Armenia must not “isolate” itself from the outside world.
The prime minister went on to urge citizens to avoid panic buying of foodstuffs and to pay much greater attention to personal hygiene.
“To be honest, this is a good opportunity to give up some not-so-pleasant habits,” he said. “As has been recommended by the health minister, we can now end the practice of greeting each other by kissing each other.”