The government said on Thursday that it does not intend yet to stop the ongoing gradual reopening of Armenia’s economy despite a record-high number of new coronavirus cases recorded in the country in the past 24 hours.
The Armenian Ministry of Health reported 134 new cases and two more deaths in the morning. The total number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus thus reached 2,066 while the nationwide death rose to 32.
Health Minister Arsen Torosian presented these figures at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. He again warned that the health authorities will soon be no longer able to hospitalize or isolate all infected persons.
“Of course, we will try to delay the day when we make such a decision as much as possible because it will lead to a further spread [of the disease] in the future,” said Torosian. “I presume that we will manage to last for five or six days at this pace.”
The spread of the virus slowed significantly at the beginning of April following the government’s decision in late March to impose a nationwide lockdown involving the closure of most nonessential businesses. The government began gradually lifting on April 13 the ban on various types of economic activity. The Ministry of Health has reported increased daily numbers of COVID-19 case for the past ten days.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian announced on Tuesday that the authorities are planning to allow all companies, including cafes and restaurants, to resume their operations within the next ten days. A government task force enforcing the coronavirus-related state of emergency in Armenia eased restrictions on people’s movements the following day.
“I think that our plans have not changed yet,” the head of the task force, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian, told Pashinian and fellow cabinet members.
“Nevertheless, depending on the infection growth dynamic, our decisions may change,” he said. “I think that there is no need for such changes as yet. The statistics of the coming days as well as the circle of individuals who will test positive will allow us to make final decisions.”
“If we see that our policy of easing restrictions is bringing about dangerous consequences and the virus is spreading so fast that the healthcare system may not be able to treat all infected people, then I think that we will have to revert to the toughest possible [restrictions] regime,” added Avinian. “It is therefore essential that economic entities follow [safety] rules set by us.”
Pashinian indicated, for his part, that he believes that the authorities should stick to their reopening plan. “It’s obvious that we will have [coronavirus] cases at least until March or April next year, and we therefore cannot live in a closed regime for a whole year,” he said. “No country of the world can.”
Pashinian also complained that many Armenians are continuing to flout social distancing rules mandated or recommended by the authorities.
Critics say that the authorities themselves have contributed to the population’s complacency through a lax enforcement of those rules and early easing of the lockdown.