The Armenia government will allow more companies to resume next week their operations suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Wednesday.
Pashinian stressed that the permission will be conditional on employers enforcing social distancing rules and following other precautions against the spread of the virus. He singled out Armenia’s export-oriented textile industry employing thousands of people.
“The sector should be reopened from April 20,” Pashinian said during the government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament. “Our strategy is to reopen as many sectors as possible.”
“But we have to realize that … after the coronavirus outbreak life in manufacturing plants, cafes, restaurants, schools and universities will not be the same as it was before. Some new [safety] rules will have to be put in place,” he warned.
The government ordered the temporary closure of most nonessential businesses, including cafes and restaurants, on March 24 amid an accelerating spread of coronavirus in Armenia. The ban did not apply to agriculture, food retailers, public utilities and services, banks as well as food-processing, mining and cargo firms.
As the rate of new infections slowed considerably last week the government decided to reopen some sectors of the Armenian economy. Local firms engaged in open-air construction or manufacture cigarettes, cement and other construction materials were allowed to resume work on Monday.
Pashinian said on Saturday that the government is also planning to lift the ban on textile manufacturing even though the sector has reportedly been the single largest of source of more than 1,000 coronavirus infections recorded in Armenia to date. “We will hold more detailed discussions with textile industry entrepreneurs … so that they can organize manufacturing as safely as possible,” he said.
One of the country’s largest textile factories, Gloria, is located in the northern city of Vanadzor. Its 2,600 workers were put on unpaid leave almost a month ago.
Gloria’s owner, Bagrat Darbinian, made clear on Wednesday that the plant is unlikely to restart production operations this month in any case. “I am not inclined to resume work in April,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “We will also remain closed in May, until everyone calms down.”
Darbinian said that even in the days leading up to the lockdown production operations at his company were disrupted by sanitary workers who spent hours disinfecting its premises and measuring workers’ temperatures on a daily basis. He claimed that Gloria is now unable to import fabric and other raw materials because new regulations set by the Eurasian Economic Union.
Darbinian further complained that the national tax service has refused to certify Gloria’s creditworthiness, something which would have made it eligible for a low-interest $1 million loan subsidized by the government.
Like virtually all other Armenian textile firms, Gloria sells the bulk of its output abroad. It mainly manufacturers clothes for customers in Italy and Germany, including the German federal police.
Darbinian said that as recently as last week an Italian company commissioned a large amount of protective medical clothing from the Vanadzor factory. He said his company could not take the lucrative order because of the economic shutdown in Armenia.