Two more textile factories in Armenia suspended their operations on Tuesday after dozens of their workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Gyumri-based factories belonging to the local Lentex and Svetex companies employ a total of about 400 people.
Tigran Petrosian, the governor of the surrounding Shirak province, said 120 workers underwent coronavirus tests nearly half of which came back positive on Monday. He said the company owners decided to temporarily shut down their plants without any government orders.
“Svetex decided to take a two-week break while Lentex is discussing mechanisms and ways of continuing its work,” Petrosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“We can’t operate right now because the [infected] people have self-isolated while others, who feel unwell, are having tests in policlinics,” said the Lentex owner, Karen Gomtsian.
Gomtsian said he will decide “in the coming days” when to reopen the plant. He suggested that some of his 350 or so employees will return to work soon so that Lentex can fulfill its contractual obligations to foreign buyers. They have not been in contact with infected workers and “feel well,” he said.
While insisting that the company has followed all anti-epidemic rules set by the government, Gomtsian admitted that sanitary inspectors forced it to close for one day late last month.
The provincial administration has reported 135 coronavirus cases among residents of Gyumri and other Shirak communities. Only 42 of them are in hospital at present.
Armenia’s largest textile plant located in Vanadzor, the administrative center of neighboring Lori province, has been hit by a similar COVID-19 outbreak. Authorities ordered the Gloria company’s plant to close on June 3 one of day after three of its 2,600 predominantly female workers tested positive for the virus.
The number of infected workers has since risen to 149. One of them, Lilik Bayadian, was informed about her positive test result on Tuesday three days after developing a fever and apparent pneumonia.
Bayadian repeatedly coughed when she spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone hours before being taken to hospital.
“I have gotten sick many times but never felt such pain in my muscles, arms and legs before,” said the middle-aged woman. “My daughter-in-law also has a fever but she is not in bed.”
Another Gloria employee, Karine Rafaelian, has had no coronavirus tests and shown no symptoms of the disease. But like many of her colleagues, she too has been told by the Vanadzor police to quarantine at home.
“In my circumstances self-isolating means committing a suicide because I live alone,” complained Rafaelian. “My children live in Russia and my husband is dead. Who is going to buy food for me?”
The Lori governor, Andrei Ghukasian, pledged to help people like her. “We keep in touch with everyone by phone to see if they need food,” he said. “We have food packages that will be delivered to them by our workers and volunteers so that they don’t leave their homes.”
Gloria will remain closed at least until June 20. This and other Armenian firms manufacturing clothing were allowed to resume their work in late April following a month-long stoppage ordered by the government as part of a nationwide lockdown. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on April 12 that the textile industry should be able to reopen despite being “the main driving force” of coronavirus infections in the country.
Following Pashinian’s statement, a government task force set concrete social distancing rules and other safety standards for the export-oriented industry. Gloria’s owner, Bagrat Darbinian, claimed that those requirements are too strict when his employees defied the government ban and returned to their workplaces on April 21.
The authorities shut down the plant again the following day. Still, they agreed to soften the rules.
The daily number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Armenia has increased dramatically since then.
“The main reason for the rise in the number of cases is industrial enterprises,” Pashinian said on May 24. The prime minister accused businesses of failing to follow the rules.
The authorities have registered 13,675 coronavirus cases and 217 deaths to date. Six people died from the virus on Monday, according to the Armenian Ministry of Health.
The official count does not include the deaths of 74 other Armenians who were also infected with the respiratory disease. The ministry says that these fatalities were caused by other, pre-existing conditions.