An Armenian opposition leader has called on the authorities to postpone the constitutional referendum scheduled for April 5 because of the risks posed by the spread of the new coronavirus infection in the country.
“The situation tends to get worse rather than better,” Edmon Marukian, the leader of the parliamentary Bright Armenia party, warned on Friday. “The number of those infected is increasing, so it will be impossible to hold the ballot, and decisions in this regard must be made now.”
Marukian also said that he was in favor of introducing a state of emergency for at least 14 days in order to shut down all public and private institutions and stop all mass events. “Citizens are waiting for the government to tell them, for example, not to organize wedding parties so they can postpone such events. We should not delay these measures and wait for the number [of coronavirus cases] to increase and the situation to get worse.”
The oppositionist’s statement came as Armenia reported its eighth coronavirus case on Friday. Five more people were hospitalized in Vanadzor with coronavirus-like symptoms later today.
Dozens of people have either been quarantined or self-quarantined in Armenia at present after having suspected contacts with the infected persons, four of whom had come from coronavirus-hit Italy and Iran.
Naira Zohrabian, of the largest parliamentary opposition faction, Prosperous Armenia, also believes that if the coronavirus continues to spread, the referendum should be canceled. The lawmaker thinks the ongoing campaign in the referendum must be stopped in any case, as crowded places are the biggest risk of the spread of the deadly virus.
Elections authorities in Armenia have not yet spoken about any plans to postpone the current referendum.
The political team of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who until Friday was actively engaged in campaigning, has suspended rallies for several days.
Deputy Parliament Speaker Alen Simonian, who is a senior member of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Friday that they have no decision yet as to when the campaign can be resumed. As for the possibility of postponing the referendum, he said they will follow the dynamics of the spread of the disease. “There will be no such thing as continuing the political process if there is a danger of epidemic or if the situation gets dramatically worse. It is not an end in itself. We will make decisions based on the dynamics [of the coronavirus spread] and the information that we have.”
At the same time, Simonian warned against “demagogic statements about extreme measures.” “The authorities have so far proved their openness, their ability to respond quickly, and the measures that have been taken to date have produced maximum results. If we feel the need to do so [introduce a statement of emergency], if professionals and not politicians make such assessments, surely everything will be done. But today I still can’t talk about such things. And I don’t want to rule out anything,” the deputy parliament speaker said.
Earlier today the Armenian government decided to close all schools, universities and kindergartens until at least March 23. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian also called on citizens, especially those exhibiting coronavirus-like symptoms, to refrain from participating in mass events.
A number of government and private institutions have canceled public events. Thus, for example, Armenia’s soccer federation announced that all tournaments held under its umbrella will be suspended until March 23.
Armenian Vice-Premier Tigran Avinian, meanwhile, announced late on Friday that under a mutual agreement beginning on March 14 morning Armenia and Georgia will suspend the movements of the two countries’ citizens across the border for a period of 10 days.
“At the same time, the two countries will ensure the unimpeded entry of their citizens who wish to return home. These restrictions apply to all types of transportation. The restrictions will not apply to cargo traffic,” Avinian said in a Facebook post.
Earlier this month Armenia also re-introduced a visa regime and tightened controls at the border with neighboring Iran over coronavirus-related risks.