The number of people in Armenia infected with coronavirus is twice higher than official statistics indicate, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Wednesday.
The Armenian health authorities have reported 7,774 coronavirus cases so far. About 5 percent of them were registered on Tuesday, a further indication that the virus is continuing to spread rapidly in the country of about 3 million following the recent lifting of a nationwide lockdown.
The Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday morning that seven more people died from COVID-19 in the past day, raising the official death toll to 98. It said five other infected citizens died as a result of other, chronic illnesses. The number of such fatalities thus rose to 44.
“There are now thousands of people in the country infected with coronavirus who do not even know that they are carriers of the virus,” Pashinian told a cabinet meeting held later in the day.
Pashinian said that countries around the world are able to register less than half of COVID-19 infections. “Therefore, if there are 7,000 confirmed cases in Armenia now, it means that there are 14,000 carriers of the virus [in reality,]” he said, adding that the vast majority of them are asymptomatic and unaware of being infected.
The daily numbers of new COVID-19 infections and deaths have increased steadily and significantly since the Armenian government began lifting in mid-April lockdown restrictions imposed in late March. All sectors of the Armenian economy were allowed to resume their work by May 10.
Despite what Pashinian described as a “quite severe situation,” the government has signaled no plans to again restrict people’s movements and shut down much of the economy.
The prime minister again insisted on Wednesday that the spread of the virus can be halted if Armenians frequently wash hands, wear face masks and practice social distancing. He reiterated that “individual responsibility” of citizens remains the government’s “principal tool” for tackling the disease.
Pashinian also reaffirmed his pledges to toughen the enforcement of safety rules set by the authorities for people, businesses and other entities.
A senior official attending the cabinet meeting told him that Armenia’s Health and Labor Inspectorate has already ordered this week one-day closures of some 290 cafes, restaurants and other business not complying with the rules. For their part, the Armenian police claimed to have fined or reprimanded hundreds of people who did not wear masks on buses and other enclosed spaces.
Critics of the government are skeptical about the effectiveness of the government strategy of defeating the virus. They say that the authorities lifted the lockdown too soon and never enforced it properly in the first place.