Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Wednesday described as “very worrying” the continuing rapid spread of coronavirus in Armenia but argued against changing his government’s strategy of coping with the epidemic.
Pashinian said the Armenian authorities should only make “some adjustments” to their “decentralized” fight against the virus which places a great deal of responsibility on ordinary citizens.
The Ministry of Health reported earlier in the day at least 3 more deaths and 230 new COVID-19 infections, which brought to 5,271 the total number of confirmed cases in the country of about 3 million. The official death toll from the virus reached 67.
Citing the growing number of cases, Health Minister Arsen Torosian announced on Tuesday that the authorities will have to stop in the coming days hospitalizing or isolating most people testing positive for COVID-19.
“Our calculations show that if we don’t change anything we will have about 10,000 cases … by the end of May and that figure could reach 20,000 in mid-June,” Pashinian said at a meeting of an interagency commission coordinating government measures against the virus.
The authorities, he went on, should therefore “review the quality and scale of measures” already taken by them.
“We should first and foremost understand how we are going to make more effective the fight against coronavirus which we believe is most effective,” he said. “Namely, the decentralized struggle whereby as many forces and citizens as possible should be involved in the fight against coronavirus at the level of individual responsibility.”
Pashinian has repeatedly urged Armenians to do so by practicing social distancing and taking other precautions recommended by the health authorities. Some opposition figures and other critics of the Armenian government have responded by accusing him of trying to dodge responsibility for the authorities’ lax enforcement of stay-at-home orders and failure to contain the epidemic.
As part of a nationwide lockdown imposed in late March, the government seriously restricted people’s movements and ordered the closure of most nonessential businesses. It began relaxing these restrictions already in mid-April. The daily numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the country have steadily increased since then.
Critics say that the authorities lifted the lockdown too soon and are now paying the consequences. They cite the example of many other countries, notably neighboring Georgia, which have kept lockdown restrictions in place for at least two months and are now reporting very low infection rates.
Pashinian dismissed such comparisons, claiming that Armenia has at the time suffered less financial and economic damage from the virus than some of those countries. “We should carry on with our tactics and not underestimate socioeconomic problems vis-à-vis health problems,” he said. “On the other hand, the aggravation of the health crisis could further deepen economic problems and make it harder to solve them.”
A government statement on the meeting chaired by Pashinian said the government commission discussed “further actions” in the fight against the virus. But it did not report concrete decisions made by the ad hoc body.