The Armenian government said on Monday that it is considering lifting a coronavirus-related ban on rallies while keeping in place other safety rules imposed by it more than four months ago.
The government declared a state of emergency on March 16 after confirming the first cases of the coronavirus in Armenia. With the virus continuing to spread across the country, emergency rule has been extended on a monthly basis since April.
It allows the authorities to ban all street gatherings, enforce social distancing and hygiene rules, ban or restrict some types of business activity, seal off local communities hit by COVID-19 outbreaks and impose a nationwide lockdown.
The government kept the state of emergency in place even after lifting lockdown restrictions and reopening virtually all sectors of the Armenian economy in early May. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and other government officials have said that it still needs the emergency powers to make Armenians wear mandatory face masks in all public areas and follow other rules designed to contain the epidemic.
The monthly extensions of the state of emergency are increasingly criticized by opposition groups, however. Some of them claim that Pashinian is exploiting the coronavirus crisis to prevent anti-government street protests. The prime minister and his political allies deny this.
Speaking at a recent cabinet meeting, Pashinian said that the authorities should explore alternative legal mechanisms for enforcing the coronavirus safety rules. “We do realize that we cannot and must not endlessly extend the state of emergency,” he said.
Pashinian’s spokeswoman, Mane Gevorgian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that an interagency task force is now working on a relevant government bill.
“Working groups are continuing to work on a daily basis and I hope that we will be able to present a final draft to the public in the coming days,” she said. “I can assure you that nothing is going to change with regard to anti-epidemic rules. The option of maintaining the state of emergency but lifting the ban on rallies is under discussion.”
Gevorgian cautioned that it is still not clear whether the bill will be drafted and sent to the Armenian parliament for approval before the state of emergency ends on August 12. The government has yet to decide whether to extend it by another month, she said.
The government said last week that the daily number of new coronavirus cases has fallen considerably since mid-July after months of rapid growth. Pashinian expressed hope that Armenia will practically overcome its coronavirus crisis already in September.
A total of 39,102 cases have been registered in the country of about 3 million to date.
The Armenian Ministry of Health also reported on Monday morning that 8 more people died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 762.