The Armenian government decided to impose the rule, effective from October 1, in a bid to contain the latest wave of infections. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said the measure will make it easier for authorities to enforce mask wearing on public transport and inside shops and other enclosed areas.
An RFE/RL correspondent saw very few people with face coverings in the center and outskirts of Yerevan. Residents of other parts of Armenia have been even more reluctant to put on masks throughout the pandemic.
There were also no police officers in sight fining people or warning them to comply with the new legal requirement.
Critics questioned the effectiveness of the requirement in the absence of strict enforcement of physical distancing rules in public areas.
Armenian bars, restaurants and other leisure and cultural facilities have operated with few sanitary restrictions since the summer of 2020. Nor have the authorities banned or restricted mass events in recent months.
Davit Melik-Nubarian, a public health expert, said the government should shorten the work hours of leisure venues and consider introducing a mandatory coronavirus health pass for entry to them if it is to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The Armenian Ministry of Health registered 55 more coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday, raising the official death toll from the disease to 6,379. The figure does not include almost 1,300 other infected people who the ministry says have died as a result of other, chronic conditions.
Pashinian made clear last Thursday that the government has no plans to impose lockdown restrictions. It will instead step up its vaccination campaign and push for greater mask wearing, he said.
Nearly seven months after the launch of the campaign, less than 10 percent of Armenia’s population has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the lowest immunization rate in wider Europe.
Vaccinations have accelerated over the past month after the authorities began requiring all public and private sector employees to get inoculated or take coronavirus tests twice a month at their own expense. But there are growing complaints about poor and unsafe organization of the process mainly carried inside state-run policlinics across the country.
Gohar Abrahamian, a Yerevan resident, feared contracting the coronavirus when she stood in long waiting lines to get vaccinated late last week.
Abrahamian said she first waited at the entrance to a policlinic together with about 40 other people, some of whom had possible COVID-19 symptoms and wanted to see a doctor. Once inside the building, she had to join an even longer line of citizens crammed into a narrow corridor and waiting outside a single vaccination room.
“I kept looking around to see who is sneezing and who is not,” the woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Social distancing was out of the question in those circumstances.”