The Russian government has waived its ban on commercial flights abroad to allow at least 400 citizens of Armenia to return home from Russia because of the coronavirus epidemic.
It suspended all flights in and out of Russia on April 3 to try to stem the spread of coronavirus. The decision left hundreds of Armenians stranded at Moscow’s Domodedovo international airport.
At the request of the Armenian Embassy in Russia, Moscow allowed a Russian airline, Red Wings, to transport 222 of them to Yerevan on Monday. They all were placed in quarantine by Armenian health authorities immediately after arriving at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport.
The Armenian Ministry of Emergency Situations released a short video that showed officials clad in protective gear escorting the evacuees to buses that took them to two hotels where they will stay for at least two weeks.
Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian announced afterwards that the Russian government has allowed Red Wings to carry out a second Moscow-Yerevan flight. The flight is scheduled for Tuesday, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said later in the evening.
Most of the evacuees are understood to have been selected by the Armenian Embassy. According to Ambassador Vartan Toghanian, priority was given to transit passengers from other Russian cities and people travelling with young children or lacking money to stay in Russia.
Toghanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Sunday that a total of about 3,000 Armenian nationals have asked the embassy to help them return to Armenia. “There are two categories of people willing to return: those who are ready to pay and to go to Armenia and those who are unable do to that because of financial or other problems,” he said.
The envoy said the Armenian mission in Moscow is now looking into ways of helping the latter category. “First of all, we will try to accommodate them in several hotels outside Moscow,” he said, adding that other stranded Armenians will likewise be offered free but temporary accommodation in two cities in southern Russia.
Russia is home to hundreds of thousands of Armenian migrant workers. Many of them now risk losing their jobs due to coronavirus-related lockdowns ordered by authorities in various parts of the country.
According to Armenia’s Labor and Health Inspectorate, almost 12,000 people have returned to Armenia from “countries in the high-risk zone” and been ordered to self-isolate since March 19.