The Armenian government has allowed two textile plants employing about 3,000 people to resume their operations suspended last month due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The permissions given on Tuesday to the Gloria and Sarton companies based in the northern city of Vanadzor are conditional on their compliance with anti-epidemic measures required by a government body enforcing the coronavirus-related state of emergency in Armenia.
With some 2,600 workers, Gloria is the country’s largest textile factory. Its owner, Bagrat Darbinian, said on Wednesday that he has pledged to have its premises disinfected twice a day and to provide all workers with hand sanitizers, medical masks and rubber gloves. Darbinian said company buses transporting his employees to work and back home will also be disinfected on a daily basis.
Some of those workers interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian service said, however, that they cannot wear masks and gloves all day long and will frequently wash their hands and avoid physical contact with each other instead.
Despite the continuing spread of the virus, the government has gradually reopened various sectors of the Armenian economy in the last two weeks. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on April 12 that the domestic textile industry should also be able to restart its activities despite being “the main driving force” of coronavirus cases recorded in the country at that point.
Hundreds of such cases originated in one textile factory located in Yerevan. Health authorities believe that its workers were infected by a visiting Italian specialist in early March.
Following Pashinian’s statement, the government task force set concrete social distancing rules and other precautions for the export-oriented sector. Darbinian claimed that those requirements are too strict as Gloria’s employees defied the government ban and returned to their workplaces on April 21.
The mostly female workers said they want the factory to immediately resume its work because they cannot support themselves and their families after the month-long lockdown. Authorities shut it down again the following day.
Darbinian told his protesting workers at the time that they should not be afraid of contracting COVID-19, the potentially deadly respiratory disease caused by the virus. “If we get infected, we’ll recover,” he said. “There are 2,600 people here, and [the disease] is so widespread that someone may catch it.”
“Neither I nor anybody else can give you guarantees. So you must be prepared for that,” added the company’s owner.
Pashinian announced on Tuesday that his government is planning to reopen all remaining businesses, including cafes and restaurants, within the next 10 days.
Meanwhile, the Armenian Ministry of Health reported 65 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday morning. The total number of people who have tested positive for the virus in Armenia thus reached 1,932. Thirty of them have died from the disease so far, according to the ministry.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Sunday, Health Minister Arsen Torosian warned that due to the daily number of new infections the authorities will soon be unable to hospitalize or isolate most infected people.