The Armenia government kept the restrictions in place when it lifted a coronavirus-related state of emergency in September. The government introduced a nationwide “quarantine” regime which allowed it to continue requiring people to wear face masks in all public areas and enforcing social distancing and hygiene rules set for businesses.
The new regime was due to remain in force until January 11. The Ministry of Health formally asked the government late last month to extend it by six month months, citing the continuing large number of coronavirus cases in the country.
Kerobian criticized the request in an interview with Armenian Public Television aired late on Thursday.
He claimed that the restrictions would hurt the Armenian economy which has already been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The economy badly needs more “oxygen” after contracting by at least 7 percent in 2020, said he 44-year-old businessman who was appointed as economy minister in late November.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Arsen Torosian dismissed the criticism on Friday, saying that the existing rules do not place restrictions on economic activity and only reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections within businesses and other entities.
“Minister Vahan Kerobian noted that what the economy needs most now is oxygen,” the official, Alina Nikoghosian, said. “Individuals treated for the coronavirus over the last several months have also needed oxygen first and foremost, which has been provided by the Ministry of Health.”
“We hope that the Ministry of Economy too will save no effort to provide the economy with oxygen without increasing the number of [COVID-19] patients,” she said.
Nikoghosian insisted that the rules criticized by Kerobian are essential for containing the further spread of COVID-19. She argued that many other countries are still imposing lockdowns and other tougher restrictions to deal with the pandemic.
The Armenian authorities largely stopped fining people and businesses to enforce the rules following the September 27 outbreak of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The daily number of new COVID-19 cases reported by them grew rapidly as a result. But it has been steadily falling since mid-November.
According to the Ministry of Health, there were 9,850 active cases in Armenia as of Friday morning, sharply down from 22,850 cases reported on December 1.
More than 161,000 coronavirus infections and at least 2,908 deaths caused by them have been officially confirmed in the country of about 3 million to date. The real number of cases is believed to be much higher.
Citing “some international projections,” Nikoghosian warned that another 1,000 Armenians may well die from the disease by April 1.