The new coronavirus is continuing to spread in Armenia despite its government’s intensifying efforts to make people practice social distancing and wear face masks, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on Thursday.
“We are not succeeding in lowering [infection] numbers and we know the reason for that,” he said. “The reason is that the anti-epidemic rules are not widely followed, and we have to use increasingly tougher administrative methods for the purpose of [greater] compliance with the anti-epidemic rules.”
The Armenian Ministry of Health reported earlier in the day that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 665 to almost 18,700 in the past 24 hours. It is sharply up from about 9,500 cases that were recorded as of June 1.
The ministry also reported the deaths of 9 more people infected with COVID-19. It said the virus was the primary cause of seven of those deaths.
The official death toll from the epidemic thus rose to 309. According to the health authorities, 101 other infected citizens have died from other, pre-existing diseases.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Health Minister Arsen Torosian warned that the authorities are struggling to keep up with the continuing spread of the disease. Torosian argued that the number of new coronavirus infections is growing faster than that of new hospital beds made available for COVID-19 patients.
In particular, he said, although the total number of intensive-care beds has risen by over 30 percent in the last two weeks virtually all of them are occupied now.
According to Pashinian, the authorities believe that there are also “tens of thousands of asymptomatic cases” in the country of about 3 million. All Armenians should therefore treat each other as potential carriers of the virus, said the premier.
Pashinian said that unprotected people gathering in neighborhood courtyards or visiting each other’s homes in Yerevan and other large communities are “the main source of infections.”“Here too we should step up our administrative enforcement measures even if our resources are limited,” he told ministers.
Pashinian already announced on Tuesday that the authorities will double the number of special teams tasked with ensuring that citizens wear face masks in public and observe social distancing when queuing up outside various offices. In a related move, the government decided to require Armenians to carry passports or other IDs when leaving their homes.
Torosian suggested that a tougher enforcement of those rules alone would not remedy the situation. “No matter how much we beef up police forces I can’t imagine a [more effective] tool than relying on people’s consciousness,” said the minister.
Critics of the Armenian government are skeptical about the effectiveness of the strategy advocated by Torosian. They argue that the spread of the virus accelerated significantly after the government began easing lockdown restrictions in mid-April.
Pashinian and other senior government officials have repeatedly spoken out against a renewed nationwide lockdown. The premier insisted earlier this week that even such a drastic measure would not end the coronavirus crisis in the absence of greater public awareness of the health risks.