The requirement, effective from January 22, means that only those people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have had a recent negative test are allowed to visit bars, restaurants, museums, theaters or other public venues.
The Armenian government hoped that this will boost the country’s vaccination rate which remains the lowest in the region. Government data shows an opposite trend, however.
According to the Ministry of Health, the daily number of people receiving the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine averaged roughly 3,200 from January 23 through February 13, down from about 3,370 earlier in January and more than 5,100 in December.
About 877,000 people making up approximately one-third of the country’s population were fully vaccinated as of February 13. Only 15,539 of them also received “booster” shots. The vaccination rate is especially low among elderly Armenians.
There is growing anecdotal evidence that many Armenian bars and restaurants have stopped checking the health passes of their customers. Government agencies tasked with enforcing the requirement are not known to have fined any of them.
Some restaurant owners strongly criticized the introduction of the health pass last month, predicting a major loss of their revenues.
Davit Melik-Nubarian, a public health expert, suggested on Wednesday that the vaccination numbers are falling also because Armenians are now less worried about the more contagious but less severe Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Omicron was the main driving force behind the latest wave of coronavirus infections in Armenia that began in mid-January. The daily number of cases recorded by health authorities reached a new record high of over 4,500 on February 2. But it has fallen significantly since then, with an average of roughly 1,500 cases a day reported in the last few days.
Still, the number of coronavirus-related deaths reached 145 in the first half of February, sharply up from 81 fatalities reported in the whole of January. On Tuesday alone, 28 people died from COVID-19, according to the Ministry of Health.
“We have virtually no vacant beds right now,” said Petros Manukian, the deputy director of Yerevan’s Surb Grigor Lusavorich Medical Center, the largest hospital treating COVID-19 patients.
“During the previous wave [of infections,] we admitted many young and middle-aged citizens with infected lungs and serious breathing difficulties whose condition deteriorated rapidly,” Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “The picture is a bit different at this stage. There are more patients with underlying diseases that are aggravated by COVID-19 and often cause their deaths.”