The number of coronavirus cases in Armenia could quadruple by the end of this month, Health Minister Arsen Torosian said on Monday.
Torosian also warned of the possibility of a prolonged and much deadlier epidemic as he met with Armenian lawmakers and answered their questions.
“If we follow [safety and hygiene] rules then we will manage to make progress,” he told members of the parliament committee on healthcare. “If we don’t we will have explosive outbreaks which will result, for example, in 500,000 infected citizens and thousands of deaths. This scenario is not implausible.”
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Torosian clarified that the staggering numbers cited by him are based on the World Health Organization’s projections for the spread of the virus in Armenia made one month ago.
“Fortunately, that hasn’t happened because we have managed to contain the spread of infections,” he said. “Whether there will be 500,000, 100,000 or 50,000 cases is hard to tell now … but it’s our behavior that will determine their number.”
A “plausible scenario” now, he went on, is that Armenia will have 10,000 cases at the end of this month. “This number is large in the sense that it’s more than [the number of infected people] we can keep under control and we will probably send some of them home. But it’s not large in the sense that we will be able to treat severe and critical cases.”
The Ministry of Health reported on Monday morning 121 new cases of the disease which raised Armenia’s COVID-19 total to 2,507.
The ministry also said that four more Armenians have died from the virus, the largest daily increase in fatalities reported so far. The country’s death toll from COVID-19 thus reached 39.
Torosian issued the stark warnings as the Armenian government largely ended on Monday a nationwide lockdown imposed in late March. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Sunday that Armenians must now share with the government “responsibility” for tackling the epidemic and minimizing its consequences. Pashinian urged them to abide by social distancing and hygiene rules set by the health authorities.
The government had already gradually reopened some sectors of the Armenian economy and eased restrictions on people’s movements since April 13.
The Ministry of Health has reported growing daily numbers of new COVID-19 infections for the last two weeks. Torosian told Pashinian on Sunday that the increased “mobility” of the population is one of the reasons for that rise.