The number of people dying from coronavirus could rise sharply if the highly infectious disease continues to spread rapidly in Armenia, Health Minister Arsen Torosian warned on Thursday.
Torosian’s ministry reported 335 new COVID-19 infections in the morning, raising the total number of cases to 5,606. It also said that three more people died from the virus in the past day.
The official death toll from the epidemic thus reached 70. It does not include the deaths of 27 other people infected with the virus. The health authorities claim that those fatalities were primarily caused by other, pre-existing diseases.
“There have been 70 deaths in the country,” Torosian told a news conference. “Imagine if there were 120, 150 or 200 deaths every day. Such a scenario cannot be ruled out if we fail to contain the spread of the virus.”
“If we have 5,600 cases today, at this rate [of new infections] we will have 11,200 cases within 15 days,” he said. “So our challenge is to break this tempo.”
Torosian was particularly worried about a possible shortage of intensive care beds at the Armenian hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. There are a total of 203 such beds available at the moment and 131 of them are already occupied by patients in serious or critical condition, he said.
The minister further announced that starting from Friday the authorities will have to stop hospitalizing or isolating infected people who show mild symptoms of the virus or none at all.
Such individuals, who account for more than 70 percent of all cases, will be told to self-isolate at home. Asymptomatic patients currently kept in hospitals or hotels turned into temporary medical care centers will also be sent home.
“Regarding the coronavirus pandemic, our situation is not good,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian grimly stated during a cabinet meeting held earlier in the day.
While not ruling out renewed lockdown restrictions in Armenia, Pashinian said that his government should continue for now to put the emphasis on the “individual responsibility” of every citizen.
Pashinian has repeatedly said that the success of the fight against the virus primarily hinges on the extent to which Armenians will practice social distancing and take other precautions recommended by the health authorities. Critics 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 Armenian 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.
For the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis Pashinian and members of his government wore face masks during a cabinet meeting. As the prime minister explained: “Citizens have correctly noted, including on social media, that if wearing masks inside buildings is mandatory, then why is this rule not respected during government meetings?”