Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian held businesses reopened by his government over the past month primarily responsible for the accelerating spread of coronavirus in Armenia which resulted in another daily high of COVID-19 cases and deaths on Sunday.
The Armenian Ministry of Health said on Monday morning that as many as 452 people tested positive for coronavirus in the past day, bringing to 7,113 the total number of confirmed cases in the country of about 3 million. The latest daily number of new infections is sharply up from the previous record high of 374 cases recorded on Friday.
With the ministry reporting 6 more deaths, the official death toll from the epidemic rose to 87. It does not include the deaths of 39 other people infected with the respiratory disease. The ministry claims that they died primarily as a result of other, pre-existing conditions.
Six such fatalities were registered on Sunday. One of the victims is a 31-year-old woman who gave birth about a week ago, according to a ministry statement.
Pashinian took to Facebook late on Sunday to discuss this “very dangerous situation” and present further actions planned by the Armenian authorities.
“The main reason for the rise in the number of cases is industrial enterprises,” he said in a video address. “More than 75 percent and even 80 percent of [new] cases are registered in industrial enterprises and the services sector.”
Pashinian accused those businesses of failing to observe social distancing and hygiene rules set by the government. He said the government will now enforce tougher penalties for such violations.
“Those cafes, restaurants, bank branches, manufacturing enterprises or hairdresser salons which do not observe the safety rules will be harshly shut down,” he declared.
Pashinian’s government ordered the closure of most nonessential businesses and seriously restricted people’s movements as part of a nationwide lockdown imposed in late March. But it began relaxing these restrictions already in mid-April.
Although the daily numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases steadily increased in the following weeks, most sectors of the Armenian economy were reopened by May 4. The government went on to lift its ban on public transport and allow kindergartens, shopping malls, indoor restaurants and gyms to resume their work.
Opposition figures and other critics say that the authorities ended the lockdown too soon and never enforced it properly in the first place.
Pashinian effectively acknowledged on Sunday that the lifting of the lockdown has contributed to the spread of the virus. But he insisted that the measure was necessary for economic reasons.
Accordingly, the prime minister gave no indications that he may restore lockdown restrictions. He made clear instead that the authorities will continue to put the emphasis on the “people’s consciousness.” He again urged them to practice social distancing and wear face masks in all enclosed spaces and shops in particular.
Armenians have already been required for the last few weeks to wear masks and gloves when entering shops, banks and other businesses. There has been ample evidence of widespread non-compliance with this requirement, however.
Health Minister Arsen Torosian repeatedly warned last week that the number of people dying from coronavirus could rise sharply soon. He is particularly worried about an impeding shortage of intensive care beds at the Armenian hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.
In a Facebook post, Torosian said on Sunday evening that 154 of 186 such beds available in the country are already occupied. He also wrote: “We have 230 patients in a serious condition and 52 patients in a critical condition.”
Faced with the soaring number of new cases, the health authorities on Friday stopped hospitalizing or isolating infected people showing mild symptoms of the virus or none at all. Such individuals are now supposed to self-isolate at home.