Under a directive drafted by the Armenia Ministry of Health, starting from January 1, only those people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have had a recent negative test will be allowed to visit bars, restaurants and other public venues. The new requirement is part of government efforts to boost the country’s vaccination rate, which remains one of the lowest in Europe and Central Asia.
The measure has prompted strong criticism from some of the entities that will be affected by it. In a statement issued on Monday, the Armenian Restaurant Association said that many restaurants have already suffered massive losses due to the coronavirus pandemic and would now be dealt a further financial blow.
Ruben Babayan, the director of Yerevan’s Hovannes Tumanian Puppet Theater, added his voice to the criticism. He rebuked the government for not consulting with the entertainment sector.
“Theaters are not the main venues for people’s gatherings,” Babayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “A typical spectator visits a theater two or three times a year at best, whereas many people use public transport twice a day.”
Avanesian insisted that the health pass, which is obligatory in many Western countries, must be introduced because it will help to save lives. The minister also claimed that the number of vaccinated Armenians is already large enough to allow cultural and entertainment venues to avoid major losses of revenue.
According to the Ministry of Health, only some 436,400 people in the country of about 3 million were fully vaccinated as of Sunday. Nearly 345,000 others received one dose of a vaccine in recent weeks.
Critics also complained about a lack of clarity about how the measure will be enforced by relevant authorities.
“What if a customer shows a fake [vaccination] certificate?” asked Arsen Hovannisian, the founder of several restaurants in downtown Yerevan. “What will be our responsibility?”
“Or suppose that our employee sees a [certification] document and lets a customer in. Who will be verifying [their compliance?]”
Avanesian said in this regard that her ministry and other government agencies are still discussing enforcement mechanisms.