Armenia’s government has decided to extend a nationwide lockdown by at least ten days because of a continuing increase in coronavirus cases in the county, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Tuesday.
The government imposed one-week restrictions on people’s movements and ordered the closure of most businesses on March 24. Since then Armenians have only been allowed out to buy food, receive medical care or briefly exercise near their places of residence. The curfew does not apply to a limited number of public and private sector employees allowed to continue to go to work.
Despite these measures the virus has continued to spread. The Armenian Ministry of Health said on Tuesday morning that 50 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been registered in the past 24 hours, bringing their total number to 532.
“This statistics worries us,” Pashinian said when he announced the government’s decision to extend the lockdown.
The premier complained that some Armenians remain complacent about the epidemic and ignore stay-at-home orders issued by the authorities. “The situation is very risky and I want to call on all of us to take it very seriously,” he said in a live Facebook broadcast.
“Dear compatriots, stay at home and protect your and your loved ones’ health,” he added.
“The restrictions will be tightened further,” Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian told a news conference held afterwards. “We must also make the monitoring more effective. We are therefore going to beef up police forces [enforcing the lockdown] with various forces from other structures.”
Armenian health authorities have reported three coronavirus-related deaths so far. In Pashinian’s words, 30 infected persons are now in a “serious conditions” while 424 others are showing no symptoms of the respiratory disease.
On Monday the government asked the Armenian parliament to allow it to access personal data from people’s mobile phones for tracking their movements, phone calls and text messages. This is supposed to make it easier for the authorities to identify and isolate those who have been exposed to infected individuals.
The National Assembly tentatively approved, over strong opposition objections, a relevant government bill in the first readings on Monday. But it narrowly and unexpectedly failed to pass the bill in the second and final reading on Tuesday.
Lilit Makunts, the parliament majority leader, blamed that on the absence of two dozen fellow deputies from Pashinian’s My Step bloc. Some of them are monitoring elections in Nagorno-Karabakh while others are in coronavirus-related self-isolation, she said.
The two parliamentary opposition parties continued to categorically reject the proposed surveillance, saying that it constitutes a politically dangerous violation of citizens’ privacy and would not help to contain the epidemic.
Pashinian defended the measure, however, saying that is “not pleasant” for the government but necessary for slowing the further spread of coronavirus. He argued that the authorities now have trouble tracing the primary sources of some infections.
“We are now looking for ways to again submit that bill to the National Assembly,” he said.
The parliament met later in the day for a fresh emergency debate on the bill initiated by its pro-government majority. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the session in protest.