Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Thursday again urged Armenians to strictly follow social distancing rules, warning of the risk of a fresh upsurge in coronavirus cases in the country.
Both Pashinian and Health Minister Arsen Torosian insisted at the same time that the COVID-19 epidemic, which has killed 18 people so far, remains under control.
The Armenian Ministry of Health reported the latest fatality in the morning. It also said that 48 more coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the past day. They brought to 1,159 the total number of cases registered in Armenia so far.
Also, the number of people who have recovered from the highly contagious disease rose by 61 to 358. Torosian stressed the importance of this figure when he spoke at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
He said the health authorities thus “ended the day with a positive balance” despite more than doubling the daily number of coronavirus tests since April 10. The authorities are still able to use only half of Armenia’s hospital capacity in the fight against the virus, he added.
Torosian also revealed that more than 1,500 Armenians have been released from quarantine while about 300 other quarantined people have tested positive for the virus since the government declared a state of emergency on March 16. “I’m saying this to show that the quarantine measures are very effective,” explained the minister.
“Overall, our infection curve is now within a manageability range, so to speak,” Pashinian said for his part. “But if we carry on with the kind of attitudes which we see very often in our reality we may have a renewed outbreak of the disease.”
“The police cannot control everything” he went on. “Citizens must realize that this situation is extremely serious … Those who are healthy and very unlikely to die [from the disease] must realize that their loved ones and the elderly loved ones of their friends and relatives can die as a result of their actions.”
Pashinian cited in that regard the government’s decision late on Wednesday to effectively seal off Norashen, a village 20 kilometers south of Yerevan, over the risk of mass infections among its residents. He revealed that a quarantined resident of Norashen was allowed to attend the funeral of his father who died there a few days ago.
“The isolated citizen was escorted to the funeral service after being warned to follow social distancing and other rules,” said Pashinian. “However, things got emotional at one point and contrary to those appeals and warnings they did not stick to the rules and hugged their relatives in line with the common practice. Two days later the isolated person tested positive for coronavirus.”
According to Norashen sources, the infected man was placed under quarantine immediately after returning from Russia earlier this month.
All roads leading to Norashen remained blocked by police checkpoints on Thursday afternoon. Vehicles were allowed to enter or leave the village only in cases of extreme necessity. A senior regional police official said the quarantine will last until Sunday morning.
The village mayor, Artak Harutiunian, refused to say whether participants of the funeral have been identified and isolated or whether he was among them. “Everything is alright,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone. “I’m in the village, with my fellow villagers.”
Another local resident, who claimed to have not participated in the funeral, was untroubled by the situation in the winegrowing community. “My dear, he had endured hunger and power cuts [in the early 1990s,]” he said. “How can we not survive this quarantine?”
The Armenian government imposed a nationwide lockdown and ordered the closure of many nonessential businesses as the epidemic gained momentum on March 24. The rate of new infections fell considerably after April 3, leading the government to allow some of those businesses to resume their operations on April 13.
Pashinian on Thursday reaffirmed the authorities’ intention to reopen next week more sectors of the Armenian economy and textile manufacturing in particular. “But if the owners and employees of those factories do not show particular responsibility this decision will have disastrous consequences,” he declared.
He said the health and law-enforcement authorities will therefore keep those plants under “special surveillance” to ensure that they take all precautions against the virus.