Armenian hospitals are increasingly struggling to cope with growing coronavirus cases and may soon be unable to give life-saving treatment to all infected people hospitalized in serious condition, Health Minister Arsen Torosian said on Friday.
Amid the continuing rapid spread of the virus in Armenia, Torosian again warned of a possible shortage of intensive care beds at the hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. He said that at least 150 of just over 200 such beds currently available in the country are already occupied by patients.
“All of the 50 [vacant] beds might be occupied as early as today, whereas [occupied beds] will be freed up very slowly because citizens kept in our intensive care units … usually stay there for around 20 days,” he said during a video conference with members of Armenia’s Public Council.
Accordingly, Torosian acknowledged that doctors dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic may soon have to switch to a “deep sorting” of patients that show severe symptoms of the disease.
“The deep sorting is also done during wars, with mainly those patients who have a chance to survive admitted for treatment,” he said. “It’s possible that at this rate [of coronavirus infections] we will opt for that in the coming days. But we are doing everything to avoid that, for example, by deploying new beds.”
The minister’s latest stark warning came as the health authorities stopped hospitalizing or isolating infected people showing mild symptoms of the virus or none at all. Such individuals, who account for more than 70 percent of all cases, will now have to self-isolate at home.
Asymptomatic patients currently kept in hospitals or hotels turned into temporary medical care centers will also be sent home.
Torosian defended this measure, saying that the authorities simply have no other choice. “There is no more room [for asymptomatic cases,]” he said. “That is why we are sending people home.”
The Armenian Ministry of Health reported in the morning that 322 new infections and 4 more deaths were registered in the past 24 hours. The total number of COVID-19 cases thus reached 5,928 while the official death toll from the disease rose to 74.
The latter figure does not include the deaths of 28 other people infected with the virus. The ministry claims that those fatalities were primarily caused by other, pre-existing diseases.
Torosian warned on Thursday that the number of people dying from coronavirus could rise sharply if the highly infectious disease continues to spread rapidly. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian likewise said that the “situation is not good.”
Still, Pashinian made clear that the Armenian government will stick to its “decentralized” strategy of fighting against the virus which puts the emphasis on citizens’ “individual responsibility.”
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. But it began relaxing these restrictions already in mid-April.
The daily numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country have steadily increased since then. Critics say that the authorities never properly enforced the lockdown and lifted it too soon.
“If there is a two-week total lockdown, not the one which we had [earlier this spring,] then I can practically guarantee that we can completely stop outbreaks,” Torosian declared on Friday. But he stopped short of publicly urging the government to impose such a lockdown.