Armenia’s government on Monday extended by one month a state of emergency which it declared on March 16 following the first cases of coronavirus recorded in the country.
The government said that serious restrictions on people’s movements and a ban on many types of economic activity imposed by it later in March are still essential for slowing the spread of the virus which has killed 14 people so far.
During the extended emergency rule the government will also be empowered to requisition hotels or other private properties for accommodating people placed under quarantine.
At the same time, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s cabinet lifted virtually all restrictions on coronavirus-related news reporting. They were already softened significantly on March 26 following strong criticism from journalists and media watchdogs.
“If further monitoring detects a rapid spread of so-called fake news we could revert to those restrictions,” Justice Minister Rustam Badasian warned during a cabinet meeting.
The Armenian Ministry of Health said in the morning that the total number of coronavirus cases rose by 26 to 1,039 in the past day. The ministry reported comparable daily numbers of new infections in the course of last week. The virus spread more rapidly in Armenia earlier in April and in late March.
Citing the government data, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian, who is responsible for enforcing the state of emergency, said the lockdown is working and should further stem the spread of the disease in the coming weeks. The authorities will also step up the controversial use of mobile phone data to track potential carriers of the virus and continue to expand COVID-19 testing, he told the Armenian parliament later in the day.
“If we manage to keep the downward trend in the spread of infections, the restrictions will be revised,” Avinian said during a parliament debate on emergency rule. Conversely, he added, the government will not hesitate to toughen the restrictions if the infection rate goes up.
Pashinian admitted that the government’s decision on Sunday to reopen some sectors of Armenia’s economy, notably open-air construction and cigarette manufacturing, will increase the risk of an upsurge in coronavirus cases. But he said the affected companies and their workers can minimize that risk by following social distancing rules and taking other precautions.
Armenian farmers, food retailers, public utilities and services, banks as well as food-processing, mining and cargo firms have been allowed to work throughout the lockdown.
As well as expanding the circle of such businesses, the government decided to maintain its nationwide ban on public transport for the time being.
During the parliament debate, lawmakers representing the opposition Bright Armenia Party (LHK) called for the lifting of the ban. They said the government should also allow more companies -- and small businesses in particular -- to resume their operations. The pro-government majority in the National Assembly rejected the LHK proposals.