The Armenian government indicated on Tuesday that it still has no plans to re-impose a nationwide lockdown despite the accelerating spread of coronavirus in the country.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said the government will instead toughen penalties for people and businesses not following safety rules which it believes can stop the growing number of new coronavirus cases.
“Administrative measures taken to date will be toughened further,” he said, adding that law-enforcement and sanitary authorities will step up their inspections of businesses, buses and taxis.
Speaking at a joint news briefing with Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian and Health Minister Arsen Torosian, Pashinian again called on Armenians to frequently wash their hands, wear face masks in all enclosed spaces and practice social distancing.
“We are confident that if these rules are followed our epidemiological situation will not only improve but also gravitate towards an end,” he said. “So we continue to believe that our main task and message is to tell our dear compatriots that following these rules is very important and even obligatory.”
“Dialogue with citizens” remains the key element of the government’s fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, added Pashinian.
“It means that no economic restrictions are expected anytime soon,” explained Avinian. “We switched [in April] to the model of a decentralized fight, which means that each of us has to contribute to this fight and to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
“Every effort will be made to avoid the return to a nationwide quarantine,” he said. “But that requires us to be as disciplined as possible.”
The government is thus essentially sticking to its strategy of tackling the epidemic despite a significant increase in new coronavirus cases registered in Armenia. The Ministry of Health said in the morning that the total number of cases rose by 289 to 7,402 in the past day. It also reported 4 more fatalities which raised the official death toll from the virus to 91.
According to Torosian, 310 infected people were in a critical or serious condition as of Tuesday evening. The minister repeatedly warned last week that Armenian hospitals treating such patients will soon run out of vacant intensive care beds.
Pashinian’s government imposed a nationwide lockdown in late March, ordering the closure of most nonessential businesses and seriously restricting people’s movements. But it began relaxing these restrictions already in mid-April.
Although the daily numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections 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. They also accuse Pashinian of trying to dodge responsibility for his poor handling of the coronavirus crisis with regular statements to the effect that ordinary Armenians must share with their government responsibility for tackling the epidemic.
“We will overcome the epidemic as soon as there is a change in citizens’ epidemiological behavior,” the prime minister insisted on Tuesday. “We don’t know of any other method.”