Health Minister Arsen Torosian urged people to stop meeting relatives and friends, avoid going to restaurants and stay at home “as much as possible” on Sunday as official statistics showed no letup in coronavirus infections in Armenia.
“We need a conscious lockdown, rather than an obligatory one,” Torosian wrote on his Facebook page. “We all must limit our nonessential contacts, movements, visits, events and meetings. We must stay at home as much as possible.”
“Do not visit your loved ones unless there a vital need for that,” he said.
Armenians, he said, must also minimize physical contact with neighbors, shun birthday parties and funerals, end sight-seeing day trips to the countryside and even refrain from evening strolls in streets or parks.
“Stop visiting cafes and restaurants,” added the minister. “These are the only places where you can be without a mask and infect each other.”
The latter point prompted strong criticism from the Armenian Association of Restaurants. “Amid a sharp decrease in sales, such a categorical appeal looks like a death verdict for public food service companies,” it said in a statement.
The statement insisted that the vast majority of restaurants operate in “strict compliance” with safety and hygiene rules set by the Armenia government. It argued that restaurants flouting the rules are temporarily shut down by relevant authorities.
Torosian appealed to the population as the Armenian Ministry of Health registered 736 new coronavirus cases. The ministry reported 482 single-day infections the following morning. The decrease was apparently due to a smaller number of coronavirus tests carried out on Sunday.
According to the ministry, 7 more people died from COVID-19 in the past day, bringing Armenia’s official death toll to 433. The figure does not include the deaths of 143 other people who were also infected with the disease. The health authorities say that they were primarily caused by other, pre-existing conditions.
The total number of confirmed cases in the country of about 3 million reached 25,127 by Monday morning. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian acknowledged on Friday that Armenia now has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the world.
Despite the continuing spread of the virus, Pashinian has repeatedly indicated that his government has no plans to impose another lockdown and will continue instead to put the emphasis on getting more Armenians to practice social distancing and wear face masks in public. The premier said on Friday that the government is planning a further toughening of sanctions against people not complying with these rules.
The government issued stay-at-home orders and shut down schools, universities and most nonessential businesses at the start of the coronavirus crisis in late March. But it began easing those restrictions already in mid-April and all but ended the lockdown by the beginning of May.
The number of coronavirus cases has risen sharply since then. Critics say that the lockdown was lifted too soon.