The Armenian government signaled on Thursday plans to lift a state of emergency which it declared more than five months ago to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The government approved a bill that would allow it keep in place safety and hygiene rules and even impose, if necessary, nationwide or local lockdowns without again extending emergency rule, which is due to expire on September 11.
Under the bill involving amendments to several Armenian laws, authorities will also be able to seal off local communities hit by serious coronavirus outbreaks, quarantine infected people and continue requiring all citizens to wear masks in public spaces.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, Justice Minister Rustam Badasian confirmed that the government will not again extend the state of emergency if the bill is passed by the Armenian parliament by September 11.
Badasian insisted that the new legal regime will involve fewer restrictions on people’s freedom of movements and civil rights. In particular, he said, the authorities will stop accessing personal data from mobile phones to identify individuals who have had physical contact with COVID-19 patients and completely banning any type of business activity.
The government already lifted earlier this month a coronavirus-related ban on rallies strongly criticized by the Armenian opposition. But it set strict physical distancing requirements for organizers and participants of public gatherings.
The government approved the bill even though Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian strongly criticized its authors, the Armenian ministries of justice and health, for not consulting with the Ministry of Defense beforehand. He also deplored the fact that the bill was sent to the office of the state human rights ombudsman only two days before the latest cabinet meeting.
Armenia has had one of the highest infection rates in the wider region, with 43,270 coronavirus cases and at least 864 deaths recorded to date. The daily number of new confirmed cases has shrunk by more than half since mid-July despite the virtual absence of lockdown restrictions in the country of about 3 million.
Citing the downward trend, the government decided recently to reopen all schools and universities in September. The Ministry of Education went on to put in place detailed safety protocols for all educational institutions.