Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian warned on Monday that his government will have to impose another nationwide lockdown if Armenian hospitals are no longer able to cope with the continuing spread of the coronavirus in the country.
“As soon as we see that our healthcare system is no longer able … to cater for [infected] citizens we will have no choice but to revert to the restrictions regime to overcome this situation while realizing that this is a severe blow to our economy,” Pashinian told a daily news briefing.
“I hope that we will after all realize the gravity of the situation and a change in our behavior will be the instrument with which we will overcome this epidemic,” he said.
The warning came after the Armenian health authorities recorded more than 1,000 coronavirus infections over the weekend, raising the total number of confirmed cases to 28,936. With 7 more coronavirus deaths registered on Sunday, the country’s official death toll from COVID-19 rose to 491.
Speaking at the briefing, Health Minister Arsen Torosian sought to put a brave face on this statistics. He said that the daily number of new cases, which has averaged between 500 and 700 in recent weeks, have been “relatively stable.”
“Usually epidemics spread explosively, but we are not in such a situation,” Torosian said, adding that Armenians have slowed the spread of the virus by practicing social distancing and wearing face masks in larger numbers.
Torosian noted at the same time that there are now very few vacant beds at the intensive care units of Armenian hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.
“The situation is now more or less relatively stable, but nobody can guarantee that it will not be reversed tomorrow,” Pashinian said in this regard. “Every day we wait anxiously for the midnight to see how many new cases have been registered. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that at a certain point we won’t have 800, 900 or 1,000 cases a day.”
Arman Badalian, an epidemiology lecturer at Yerevan State Medical University, suggested that the health authorities would have already registered this many new cases had they conducted more coronavirus tests.
The daily number of tests has averaged more than 2,000 for the past month. About 30 percent of them have come back negative.
“The percentage of positive tests is quite high,” Badalian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “It means that there are many cases and we don’t hunt down all of them, so to speak.”
Badalian also insisted that social distancing and face masks alone will not contain the epidemic. The authorities, he said, should also resort to mass testing and more effective contact tracing.
The Armenian government already issued stay-at-home orders and shut down most nonessential businesses in late March. But it began easing those restrictions in mid-April and lifted the lockdown altogether by May 10. The number of new coronavirus cases soared in the following weeks.