The Armenian authorities scrambled to set up more hospital beds at the weekend after admitting that the country’s healthcare system has been overwhelmed by the continuing rapid spread of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Saturday that about 200 people infected with the virus are “waiting for their turn for hospitalization” because of a lack of vacant beds at about a dozen Armenian hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.
Pashinian said that one infected person died at home while waiting to be hospitalized while two others died at hospital due to a shortage of intensive-care beds.
“Our healthcare system is now so overwhelmed that we are unable to promptly take to hospital patients subject to hospitalization,” he said in a video address livestreamed on Facebook.
“We are already walking through hell,” added the premier.
Health Minister Arsen Torosian warned last Thursday that the hospitals coping with the coronavirus pandemic may soon be unable to admit all infected people in need of urgent treatment. Torosian had earlier warned of an impending shortage of beds at the intensive care units of those hospitals.
The authorities are facing growing criticism of their handling of the coronavirus crisis. Some media outlets and medical experts claim that they could and should have organized life-saving treatment for a larger number of people suffering from the grave respiratory disease.
Pashinian announced on Sunday three more hospitals located outside Yerevan will join the fight against the pandemic “in the coming days.” They will be able to treat a total of about 240 COVID-19 patients, he said.
There are currently around 2,000 hospital beds available for such patients across Armenia.
The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country of about 3 million reached 13,325 on Monday morning after the authorities reported 195 new infections. The daily figure was sharply down from previous days’ official statistics because the largest Armenian coronavirus lab was shut down on Sunday for what the Ministry of Health described as “prophylactic” maintenance.
The ministry said that only 829 COVID-19 tests were performed on Sunday, compared with some 2,500 tests carried out on Saturday. The number of new cases reached a fresh daily of 766 as a result of Saturday’s tests.
The ministry also reported 11 more coronavirus deaths on Monday, bringing the official death toll to 211. The figure does not include the deaths of 72 other people who were also infected with the coronavirus. The ministry says that those fatalities were primarily caused by other, preexisting conditions.
The Armenian government issued stay-at-home orders and shut down most nonessential businesses in late March following the first outbreaks of the virus. It began easing those restrictions already in mid-April and lifted virtually all of them by the beginning of May.
The number of COVID-19 infections has increased sharply since then, fuelling growing calls for a renewed nationwide lockdown. Critics of the government say that it never properly enforced the March-April lockdown and ended it too soon.
Pashinian again spoke out against restoring a “total lockdown” on Saturday, saying that it would have “dire economic consequences.” He also claimed that Armenians would not comply with renewed restrictions on their movements.
The authorities, the prime minister said, will therefore continue to focus instead on getting more citizens to practice social distancing, wear masks in all public and enclosed spaces, frequently wash hands and stay away from large gatherings. Critics are skeptical about the effectiveness of this strategy.