Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian revealed on Tuesday that health authorities are urging him to re-impose a nationwide lockdown to stop the accelerating spread of coronavirus in Armenia.
Pashinian did not rule out such a measure but voiced serious misgivings about it, saying that it could cost the Armenian economy dearly.
“I want to note that the healthcare system keeps telling us that we should impose lockdown restrictions as soon as possible, and the office of the commandant [enforcing the state of emergency in Armenia] discusses that issue on an almost daily basis,” he told a news briefing held outside his official residence.
“But the problem, my dear compatriots, is that we have already gone through a period of restrictions and seen that it brings about very serious, almost disastrous socioeconomic consequences,” he said. “We made 100 billion drams ($206 million) available for social and economic assistance [to citizens and businesses] during that period.”
“But one has to understand that the state’s resources are not unlimited and in case of another lockdown we could end up facing the kind of economic crisis which we would not be able to overcome for many years,” added Pashinian.
The Armenian government issued stay-at-home orders and shut down most nonessential businesses in late March shortly after reporting the first major outbreaks of the deadly virus in the country. But it began easing those restrictions already in mid-April. They were practically lifted by the beginning of May.
Critics say that the authorities never properly enforced the lockdown and ended it too soon. They increasingly cite the example of neighboring Georgia whose government only recently began easing serious curbs on people’s freedom of movements and reopening the domestic economy.
The Georgian authorities have so far reported less than 800 coronavirus cases and only 12 deaths caused by them, compared with over 10,000 cases and at least 158 fatalities registered in Armenia.
As many as 19 Armenians infected with COVID-19 died on Monday alone, up from the previous daily high of 15 deaths reported on May 28. The Armenian Ministry of Health also recorded 517 single-day COVID-19 infections. By contrast, only two people in Georgia tested positive for the virus in the past day.
Pashinian again insisted that Armenians’ failure to practice social distancing and wear face masks is the main reason for the continuing rapid spread of the virus. He said that earlier on Tuesday he ordered government and law-enforcement bodies to enforce these rules “in the toughest and crudest way.”
The prime minister warned that the authorities may eventually have to re-impose the lockdown and “subject the country to new social and economic shocks” if many people continue to flout the rules.
Pashinian has repeatedly said before that the success of his administration’s fight against the virus primarily hinges on citizens’ behavior and “individual responsibility.” Critics have responded by accusing him of trying to dodge responsibility for the authorities’ failure to contain the epidemic.