Citing the need to contain the further spread of a potentially deadly novel coronavirus, the Armenian government on Monday declared a state of emergency, introducing a range of limitations for Armenian citizens and partially prohibiting entry into the country for foreigners.
According to the decision, the state of emergency will last for 30 days beginning at 6:30 pm on March 16.
“The decision comes into effect upon the publication of its text,” said Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian after his cabinet unanimously voted to endorse the decision.
The government then presented the decision at a special session of parliament dominated by members of Pashinian’s My Step alliance.
After several hours of debate none of the three parliamentary factions raised any objections to the state of emergency or proposed amendments to the decision on its introduction. Parliament Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan said this meant that the decision was considered approved by parliament and no vote was needed to be taken.
Addressing Armenian lawmakers, Pashinian said that at this moment the greatest risk is connected with the most recently identified coronavirus patient, who is employed by a large production enterprise in Yerevan. “I think we’ve managed to outline the scope of his contacts, but you cannot be absolutely sure in such cases and this is one of the reasons for declaring a state of emergency,” the prime minister said, without naming the enterprise.
“I want to assure you that the government of Armenia will refrain from applying any restrictions not emanating from the situation and that we will do everything for the state of emergency, which will last until April 14, to be as justified and efficient as possible in terms of curbing the spread of the coronavirus,” Pashinian added.
Under the constitution, referendums cannot be held in conditions of a state of emergency, meaning that the constitutional referendum scheduled for April 5 will have to be delayed.
In presenting the decision Justice Minister Rustam Badasian said that Vice-Premier Tigran Avinian, who has so far led government efforts to contain the spread of the disease, will be placed in charge of coordinating measures connected with the state of emergency.
According to the declared state of emergency, Armenian citizens will be allowed to leave the country only by plane on condition that upon their return they will be placed under quarantine or self-quarantine. Entry for foreigners is to be restricted upon recommendations of the Health Ministry based on the current epidemiological situations in countries or territories in question. All arrivals in Armenia will be screened for their health condition and placed under quarantine if they exhibit coronavirus-like symptoms.
Under the decision, authorities are also empowered to set up checkpoints around Armenia, restricting travel of citizens based on the results of medical screenings for coronavirus-like symptoms.
Assemblies and strikes are to be prohibited throughout Armenia. “Mass events” involving more than 20 people, including religious ceremonies, concerts, exhibitions, displays, theater performances, sports, cultural, educational and entertainment events, celebrations and memorial services, can also be banned under the provisions of the state of emergency.
The measure also implies the possibility of regulation of attendance at family occasions like weddings, birthday parties and funerals upon decisions by the authorities.
The coordinator of the state of emergency is also empowered to prohibit the activities of public catering facilities, trade and entertainment centers in designated communities.
Schools, universities and kindergartens will remain closed, with remote learning options allowed.
Under the terms of the state of emergency, limitations are also introduced for visits and parcels sent to prisons and military units to preclude the spread of the virus inside these closed institutions.
Citing the need to prevent “panic-mongering”, the government has decided that media reports and posts in social media on some specific aspects of the coronavirus-related situation will have to reflect official reports, and that information reported “in violation of the provisions of this clause must be subject to immediate removal by persons who reported it.”
The measure come after the number of cases originally brought to Armenia from Iran, Italy and France reached 45 on March 16, with about two dozen of them linked to a single community.
Late on Sunday Armenia’s authorities already stepped up control in Vagharshapat (Echmiadzin), a town with a population of some 45,000 situated about 20 kilometers to the west of capital Yerevan.
Exits from Vagharshapat have been limited to only three, with medical screening of commuters conducted at checkpoints to prevent the possible spread of the disease.
Traffic congestions were reported in Vagharshapat’s streets leading outside the town on Monday morning.
Vagharshapat’s mayor Diana Gasparian called on local residents to stay at home and travel only if absolutely necessary.
Earlier today Armenian Prime Minister Pashinian called on citizens to remain calm. He said that the country has a sufficient supply of food to last it for at least a month even in the unlikely event of all supply chains being cut because of the global pandemic. He asked citizens not to resort to “panic buying.”
The prime minister also assured the public that, if necessary, his government has the capacity to provide more means and effort to ensure due quarantines for those suspected of having been affected by the virus.
Earlier on March 16, 67 Armenian citizens evacuated on a charter flight from coronavirus-hit Italy were placed under 14-day quarantine in addition to about 300 already being quarantined in Armenia.
At the government meeting today Prime Minister Pashinian also announced that Armenia and Russia have decided to limit mutual travels of citizens for a period of two weeks.
Earlier, Armenia also tightened controls at its borders with Iran and Georgia.