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Pashinian Again Defends Government’s Response To Pandemic


ARMENIA - A doctor wearing a protective face mask and personal protective equipment speaks with a patient at the Grigor Lusavorich Medical Centre in Yerevan on May 27, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian insisted on Tuesday that the Armenian government has done a good job dealing with the coronavirus pandemic as he explained his decision to replace Health Minister Arsen Torosian.

Torosian, who is a senior member of the ruling Civil Contract party, was replaced by his first deputy, Anahit Avanesian, and appointed as chief of Pashinian’s staff on Monday.

Introducing Torosian to the staff, Pashinian said the Armenian state apparatus needs a major “restart” after the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh that plunged the country into a serious political crisis.

“That restart must definitely start from the prime minister’s staff,” he said. “That restart is the main objective set for Mr. Torosian.”

The prime minister praised Torosian’s track record when he introduced Avanesian to senior officials from the Armenian Ministry of Health in a separate meeting. He said that the ministry has been “one of our most efficient agencies” despite being frequently criticized by the Armenian opposition and media. This is why, he said, the new health minister is a member of the same “team” that has run the ministry since May 2018.

Armenia -- Arsen Torosian, the newly appointed chief of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's staff, attends a meeting in Yerevan chaired by Pashinian, January 19, 2021.
Armenia -- Arsen Torosian, the newly appointed chief of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's staff, attends a meeting in Yerevan chaired by Pashinian, January 19, 2021.

Pashinian specifically defended its handling of the coronavirus crisis. He argued that Armenia has stopped being one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic.

“There was a time (in the summer of 2020) when in the context of the fight against the coronavirus they showed us the example of other countries, saying: ‘Look at how you should be fighting against the coronavirus, you don’t know how to fight against the coronavirus.’

“But we were confident that we are following the balanced path. Now that our statements have been borne out by the reality they no longer show us [the example of] those countries.”

Armenia has been hit hard by the pandemic, with nearly 165,000 coronavirus cases officially confirmed in the country of about 3 million so far. The real number of cases is believed to be much higher.

The Ministry of Health said on Tuesday that 9 more people have died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 3,007. The figure does not include the deaths of 734 other Armenians infected with the virus. According to the ministry, they were primarily caused by other diseases.

Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian introduces Armenia's newly appointed Health Minister Anahit Avanesian (L) to senior Ministry of Health officials, Yerevan, January 19, 2021.
Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian introduces Armenia's newly appointed Health Minister Anahit Avanesian (L) to senior Ministry of Health officials, Yerevan, January 19, 2021.

The authorities largely stopped fining people and businesses to enforce their anti-epidemic rules following the September 27 outbreak of the Karabakh war. The daily number of new COVID-19 infections reported by them grew rapidly as a result. But it has fallen significantly since mid-November.

The ministry reported 236 new cases on Tuesday, sharply down from more than 2,000 cases a day routinely recorded in late October and early November.

Despite the decreased coronavirus numbers, opposition groups and other critics of Pashinian’s government have continued to denounce it. They maintain that Armenia could and should have avoided many COVID-19 deaths.

The pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament last week gave the green light to a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic demanded by the opposition.

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