Health Minister Arsen Torosian insisted on Thursday that the Armenian health authorities are still able to cope with the continuing spread of the coronavirus after they reported the deaths of 23 more people infected with the disease.
The authorities said that 18 of those deaths were primarily caused by the coronavirus. They were added to the official death toll from the COVID-19 epidemic which rose to 245.
According to the Armenian Ministry of Health, 82 other infected people have died as a result of other, pre-existing diseases. Five of these fatalities were recorded on Wednesday.
The ministry also said that 566 people tested positive for the virus in the past day, raising to 14.669 the total number of confirmed cases in the country of about 3 million. It reported lower daily numbers of new infections earlier this week.
Torosian downplayed this increase, arguing that the health authorities conducted more coronavirus tests on Wednesday.
“The percentage of positive test results remains approximately the same: 25 percent, compared with 24 percent registered the previous day,” he said during a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
Torosian also stressed that only 32 of the newly infected patients require hospitalization and that they all will receive adequate medical aid. More importantly, he said that there are still vacant intensive-care beds at Armenian hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.
“My overall assessment is that the situation remains tense but … this tension is offset by an increase in our [hospital] capacity and our treatment skills,” he told Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and fellow cabinet members.
The health minister warned on June 4 that Armenia’s healthcare system is now so overstretched that hospitals may soon be unable to admit all infected citizens in need of urgent treatment. Pashinian said two days later that about 200 patients are “waiting for their turn for hospitalization” because of a lack of hospital beds.
The Ministry of Health announced afterwards that several more hospitals are now preparing to join the fight against the epidemic. It said they will make a total of about 350 new hospital beds available for coronavirus patients.
As well as insisting that the coronavirus crisis in the country remains “under control,” Torosian stressed the importance of toughening the enforcement of anti-epidemic rules set by the Armenian government.
Pashinian agreed but cautioned that punitive measures alone cannot force all Armenians to practice social distancing, wear face masks in all public areas and frequently wash their hands. The government will therefore continue its coronavirus-related “dialogue” with the public, he said.
“I continue to believe that administrative measures can work if actions punishable by such measures are taken by 10 percent or at most 20 percent of the population,” said the premier. “But if such actions exceed 20 percent, 30 percent or 40 percent there is no administrative body in the world that can keep the situation under control with such methods.”
Pashinian made a similar argument on June 6 when he spoke out against re-imposing a nationwide lockdown. He claimed that Armenians would not comply with renewed restrictions on their movements.
The government issued stay-at-home orders and shut down most nonessential businesses in late March following the first coronavirus outbreaks in Armenia. It began easing those restrictions already in mid-April and lifted virtually all of them by the beginning of May.
The number of coronavirus case has increased sharply since then, fuelling growing calls for a fresh lockdown. Critics of the government say that it never properly enforced the March-April lockdown and ended it too soon.