“We keep reporting low [coronavirus] numbers and people think that the virus is gone and they shouldn’t bother to take extra precautions and follow safety rules,” said Gayane Sahakian, the deputy director of the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We already have an increase in the virus’s reproduction rate. It will naturally lead to an increase in cases which we will observe over the next 14 days,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
According to the Armenian Ministry of Health, the daily numbers of new coronavirus cases have fallen significantly in the last two months after surging following the outbreak of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh on September 27.
The ministry has reported an average of some 350 cases a day over the past week, sharply down from more than 2,000 cases routinely recorded in late October and early November. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian seized upon this downward trend on Tuesday to again defend his government’s response to the pandemic strongly criticized by the Armenian opposition.
The country’s coronavirus numbers began falling in mid-November even though the Armenian police had practically stopped fining people and businesses to enforce anti-epidemic rules set by the government.
As the COVID-19 crisis worsened in June the government made it mandatory for everyone to wear a mask not only in all enclosed spaces but also outdoors. Thousands of citizens were fined 10,000 drams ($20) in the following months for failing to comply with this requirement which remains in force.
Many Armenians no longer wear masks in public areas, including buses. In Yerevan, anecdotal evidence suggests that they also have no trouble entering shops and offices without masks.
“I won’t wear a mask unless I am required to because I can’t easily breathe through it,” said one such Yerevan resident.
“The numbers have fallen and people have become complacent,” said another, masked citizen. “This is also the result of a weaker enforcement.”
In a short statement to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, the police confirmed that people not wearing masks are rarely fined these days.
“In view of the existing situation, the police take a more lenient approach and officers on duty mainly warn [citizens violating the safety rules,]” the statement said.
Sahakian said that this leniency has also made Armenians more careless about the pandemic, which has already killed at least 3,016 people in the country of about 3 million.