Authorities blocked on Wednesday all roads leading to Vartenis, a small town 160 kilometers northeast of Yerevan, after registering 47 cases of coronavirus there in recent days.
Acting on a government order, Armenia’s police and National Security Service (NSS) set up roadblocks early in the morning to prevent people leaving or entering Vartenis. Only vehicles carrying food, fuel and medicine as well as individuals having special permissions issued by the regional administration were allowed to pass through the checkpoints.
Gnel Sanosian, the governor of the surrounding Gegharkunik province, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that 21 of the infected people are employees of the local hospital and policlinic. He said one of them, a policlinic doctor, was the primary source of the COVID-19 outbreak recorded late last week.
“We still cannot establish where the disease entered Vartenis from,” said Sanosian. “But have we have ascertained the circle of the infected people’s contacts.”
Sanosian confirmed that some of the other local residents who tested positive for coronavirus are members of a non-traditional religious group. He did not deny rumors that the group, which he refused to name, has held religious services despite a ban on any gatherings imposed by the Armenian government last month.
“If necessary, relevant bodies will deal with that and we will find out where those people went and in which gatherings they participated,” added the governor. “Our main task right now is to treat and take care of everyone.”
As part of the one-week lockdown, the authorities quarantined 150 other Vartenis residents who came into contact with the infected people. They will spend the next two weeks in hotels in other parts of the country. Dozens of other locals were ordered to self-isolate.
Another small town, Maralik, was sealed off for on Monday after 18 doctors and other employees of a local hospital were diagnosed with the potentially lethal disease. Three other Maralik residents are among 24 people who have died from the virus in Armenia so far.
The Armenian Ministry of Health reported 72 new coronavirus cases across the country in the past day. The total number of such cases thus reached 1,473. According to the ministry, a total of 633 people recovered from COVID-19 to date.