Health Minister Arsen Torosian on Thursday dismissed rumors about his impending dismissal and defended his decision to go on vacation despite the continuing coronavirus crisis in Armenia.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian allowed him on Tuesday to take a three-week vacation, effective from August 31, amid media reports saying that Torosian tendered his resignation after a tense meeting with the premier. A spokeswoman for Torosian was quick to deny the claims.
The 38-year-old minister likewise insisted that he did not step down and was not lambasted by Pashinian over the coronavirus situation in the country. “I don’t even remember when I last met with the prime minister [tete-a-tete,]” he told reporters. “It was so long ago.”
He also denied that a body coordinating the Armenian government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has demanded a detailed financial report from the Ministry of Health to investigate a possible misuse of government funds allocated for treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Torosian was conspicuously absent on Thursday from a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan chaired by Pashinian. He attended instead a meeting organized by a standing committee of the Armenian parliament.
Asked after the meeting about opposition criticism of his upcoming vacation, Torosian said: “Nobody has a right to exploit the expediency of my vacation. I will stay in Armenia, remain reachable and probably go to work on some days.”
Torosian again defended the health authorities’ handling of the coronavirus crisis, which has been denounced by opposition groups and other critics of Pashinian’s government.
“The percentage of Armenia’s citizens who have been infected with and, unfortunately, died from the coronavirus shows that the public health system has done more than it could considering the financial resources and attention given to healthcare over the past decade,” he said.
Armenia has had one of the highest infection rates in the wider region, with 43,270 coronavirus cases and at least 864 deaths recorded as of Thursday morning.
Even so, 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. Pashinian and other Armenian officials say that the government’s emphasis on making people wear face masks in all public spaces and practice social distancing is bearing fruit.
Torosian did not exclude that Armenia could soon face a second wave of COVID-19 infections as a result of a colder weather, easing of sanitary restrictions on business activity and the government’s recent decision to reopen schools and universities in September. He said Armenians should therefore continue to follow anti-epidemic rules set by the authorities.