Most exits from Echmiadzin will be closed for commuters after authorities have designated the central Armenian town as a potential coronavirus hotspot in Armenia.
In a live broadcast on Facebook late on Sunday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said that 18 out of 28 coronavirus cases identified in Armenia so far have been linked to a notorious engagement party in Echmiadzin held by a woman who had returned from Italy and later tested positive for the infection.
Many of the 300 people who are currently under quarantine in Armenia are those who may have had close contacts with Echmiadzin patients.
Pashinian said that starting at 11 pm on March 15 only three out of 27 exits from Echmiadzin, a town of some 45,000 residents located about 20 kilometers to the west of capital of Yerevan, will continue to operate. Temperature screening will be conducted at the exit points, said Pashinian, asking those who have fever to quarantine themselves.
Echmiadzin (also called Vagharshapat) is also an important religious center in Armenia. The seat of the Catholicos of All Armenians, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, is located in the town.
During the live broadcast the prime minister also reported about the recovery of Armenia’s first coronavirus patient who was hospitalized on March 1. He said the 29-year-old man who had been evacuated from Iran is going to be discharged from hospital soon after testing negative for the second time.
Meanwhile, Pashinian said he himself had to undergo another test for coronavirus earlier on Sunday after having contacts with a Meghri resident who had tested positive.
The prime minister and his wife Anna Hakobian had already taken tests with negative results on Saturday as they spent a night in self-isolation in the town of Sevan.
Pashinian said then they had decided to be tested after local media raised concerns about Hakobian’s contacts with the wife of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a visit to that Latin American country on March 7. The Brazilian leader has since said he tested negative for the virus after it was discovered that an aide and another senior government official were infected.
Pashinian said results of his new test would be available soon, and until then he would remain in self-isolation in Sevan.
Earlier this week, citing risks to public health posed by the novel coronavirus infection, Pashinian suspended his political campaign ahead of next month’s constitutional referendum. As for the referendum, he said today: “No political goal can be above public health.” The prime minister added that the referendum issue, as well as the issue of declaring a state of emergency in some parts of the country will be discussed on Monday and in the coming days.
In the referendum scheduled for April 5 Armenians are to be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that would lead to the dismissal of seven of the Constitutional Court’s nine members installed before nationwide protests swept Pashinian to power in 2018.
The seven, including Constitutional Court Chairman Hrayr Tovmasian, would be replaced by judges to be confirmed by the National Assembly, in which Pashinian’s My Step bloc holds a majority.