The government announced on Wednesday that it will extend a state of emergency by another month next week to continue containing the spread of the coronavirus in Armenia.
Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian said the government will at the same time fully or partly lift its ban on public gatherings and make it easier for foreign nationals to enter the country. He also reaffirmed its plans to reopen all schools and universities in time for the start of the new academic year.
“We have already devised various models of how to reopen public education institutions depending on the epidemiological situation,” Avinian told a joint news briefing with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. “We will present a final program by August 10.”
“Such program-based models have also been devised for other spheres,” he added in an apparent reference to libraries, museums and theaters which were also shut down in March.
The decision to again prolong the state of emergency comes despite a major decrease in coronavirus infections reported by the health authorities for the last two weeks. Pashinian said that that the epidemiological situation in Armenia is improving but remains “serious.”
Pashinian said he is worried that the falling daily number of new cases may be making Armenians more complacent about COVID-19. The authorities should therefore continue strictly enforcing social distancing and other rules aimed at containing the epidemic, he said.
Pashinian’s government declared the state of emergency on March 16 shortly after registering the first coronavirus cases. Emergency rule has been extended on a monthly basis since April. It allows the authorities to ban all rallies, enforce social distancing and hygiene rules, ban or restrict some types of business activity and impose local or nationwide lockdowns.
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.
The monthly extensions of the state of emergency are increasingly criticized by opposition groups. Some of them claim that Pashinian is exploiting the coronavirus crisis to ward off anti-government street protests.
Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party, was quick to condemn the latest extension announced by Avinian. He said that the government does not need emergency powers to enforce its anti-epidemic rules.