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Armenian Lawmakers Alarmed By Spread Of Coronavirus


ARMENIA - An ambulance rescuer wearing a protective face mask and personal protective equipment (PPE), moves a patient into the Grigor Lusavorich Medical Centre in Yerevan on May 27, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.

Opposition and independent lawmakers expressed serious concern about the continuing rapid spread of coronavirus in Armenia on Monday, saying that the authorities should do more to contain the epidemic.

One of the deputies, Arman Babajanian, visited a Yerevan hospital treating COVID-19 patients and spoke to its medical personnel on Sunday.

Babajanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the Nork Hospital for Infectious Diseases is increasingly overwhelmed by the growing influx of people infected with the virus. Many of them are sent back home due to a lack of hospital beds, he said.

“They have been instructed not to hospitalize patients whose temperature does not exceed 38 [degrees Celsius,]” said Babajanian.“They are sent home to be monitored by family doctors and [regular] policlinics. These people are on the verge of developing pneumonia, and with such a fever this virus can very quickly lead to pneumonia.”

“The doctors are very worried that [coronavirus-related] deaths will soon be mainly recorded at homes because family doctors and policlinics will not be able to quickly react to so many appeals to provide necessary medical aid at homes,” he said.

Faced with the soaring number of new cases, the health authorities stopped on May 22 hospitalizing or isolating infected people who show mild symptoms of the disease or none at all. They also began discharging fully or mostly asymptomatic patients from hospitals.

Such individuals now have to self-isolate at home. The Ministry of Health has ordered state-run policlinics across Armenia to monitor their condition and give them necessary treatment or medication if need be.

Babajanian insisted that doctors working at these primary healthcare institutions lack the necessary equipment, skills and experience to accomplish this mission.

The lawmaker, who is not affiliated with any parliamentary party, also said that many hospital doctors at the forefront of the fight against the epidemic are pleading with the government to restore a nationwide lockdown which was imposed in late March and has been gradually lifted since mid-April.

The government remains reluctant to re-impose lockdown restrictions, citing the need to prevent a deeper economic crisis in the country. Government officials say Armenians can stop the spread of the virus if they wear face masks, practice social distancing and frequently wash their hands.

Armenia -- A session of the National Assembly, Yerevan, May 26, 2020.
Armenia -- A session of the National Assembly, Yerevan, May 26, 2020.

Naira Zohrabian, a senior lawmaker representing the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), criticized the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. “I have very credible information coming from doctors that the situation is becoming uncontrollable especially in terms of the number of coronavirus cases and deaths,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian.

Zohrabian said she herself is afraid of contracting the virus inside the Armenian parliament given the lack of physical distancing there which has been evident since the start of the crisis. She said the parliament leadership should consider allowing lawmakers’ remote participation in session of the parliament and its standing committees.

Another independent deputy, Tigran Urikhanian, voiced concern over Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s morning announcement that he and members of his family have tested positive for the virus.

“It means that the prime minister was a carrier of the virus just days or maybe weeks ago and many socialized with him,” Urikhanian said on the parliament floor. “For example, he gave me a piece of paper the other day and I had to take it.”

“Many of us have been in contact [with Pashinian lately.] What is going to happen to our institution?” he asked.

Hrachya Hakobian, a pro-government parliamentarian and Pashinian’s brother-in-law, visited the prime minister and his family in their official residence as recently as on Sunday. Hakobian all but ruled out the possibility of catching the virus from them as he attended a parliament session the following day.

“I wore a mask and disinfected my hands before entering the house,” Hakobian said. “So all those rules were followed in the family.”

It was not clear whether the parliament leadership will decide to arrange coronavirus tests for all 132 members of the legislature.

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