The government introduced a nationwide “quarantine” regime which will allow it to continue requiring Armenians to wear face masks in all public areas and enforcing social distancing and hygiene rules for businesses.
The new regime, which will remain in force until January 11, stems from a government bill which was passed by the Armenian parliament last week and signed into law by President Armen Sarkissian on Thursday.
The bill also empowers relevant authorities to impose nationwide or local lockdowns, seal off communities hit by COVID-19 outbreaks, close Armenia’s borders and isolate people infected with the disease. The authorities can also ban or restrict public gatherings.
The government drafted the bill to avoid extending the state of emergency again on September 11. The move came amid a steady decline in coronavirus cases registered in the country.
The daily number of new cases reported by the Armenian Ministry of Health varied from 108 to 177 in the course of this week, sharply down from an average of 550-600 cases a day registered in the first half of July. There has been a similar drop in coronavirus-related deaths, which have totaled 1,189 since the start of the pandemic, according to the ministry.
The government already lifted in late August a ban on rallies increasingly criticized by the Armenian opposition. It at the same time set strict physical distancing requirements for organizers and participants of street gatherings.
The government also decided to reopen all schools and universities shut down in March. Classes there will resume on September 15.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian stressed on Thursday the importance of continued enforcement of the remaining safety rules, warning of the risk of a “second wave” of COVID-19 infections.
According to Tatevik Revazian, the head of the government’s Civil Aviation Committee, the end of emergency rule also means a formal reopening of Armenia’s air space for regular commercial flights. Airlines have carried out only charter flights to and from the country for the last six months.
“We are now calling and sending letters to airlines to inform them that all restrictions are lifted so that they can resume flights as soon as possible,” Revazian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “But it’s obviously up to the airlines to decide which flights will be restored.”
Because of the continuing pandemic Armenian citizens are still not allowed to travel to the United States, Russia and virtually all European countries.
Yerevan similarly banned foreign nationals from entering Armenia in March. The ban was lifted late last month. Foreigners arriving in the country have since been required so self-isolate for two weeks.
Pashinian announced on Thursday that they will now be given the option of undergoing a coronavirus test upon arrival at the Yerevan or Gyumri airport. “If a person tests negative they will not have to be quarantined,” he explained.