YEREVAN—Addressing the nation on Tuesday evening, a resolute Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced new enforcement measures of last week’s State of Emergency in response to newly reported coronavirus cases in Yerevan as well as several provinces throughout the country. Right now, there are 249 cases of the coronavirus in Armenia, announced the Prime Minister on Facebook Live. “Most of them do not even have any symptoms, raising the hopes that they might recover without medical intervention,” said Pashinyan, who also revealed that a 77 year-old patient was in intensive care and another four had severe pneumonia.
Pashinyan said further restrictions will be placed on non-essential economic activities or travel for at least one week. Supermarkets, pharmacies and banks will continue to operate. The Prime Minister urged citizens to use online alternatives whenever possible for these transactions. Authorities have already enforced a ban on restaurants, cafes, bars, casinos and other businesses earlier this week. Pashinyan also reiterated his government’s pledge to support those affected by these restrictions.
“Let’s look at the upcoming week as a unique opportunity to read, self-reflect and plan the future of the Armenian nation,” Pashinyan went on. “Now is the time to work on healthy lifestyle habits, to quit smoking, start an exercise routine.” He also thanked healthcare workers for their tireless efforts and the military for maintaining vigilance during these difficult times.
“Never forget that we are the descendants of Hayk Nahapet and that we carry the name Hye. Just as we outlasted King Bel of Babylon, so too will we outlast the coronavirus,” he declared before ending the broadcast.
Pashinyan’s nearly 20-minute message to the people followed Health Minister Arsen Torosyan’s address on Monday. Alluding to reports from researchers around the world that certain existing medications may prove effective against the novel coronavirus, Torosyan pointed out that “we are well stocked with each of these drugs, but we will wait for conclusive testing results before administering them on our patients.” To better accommodate patients, the Health Ministry led in the four-day building of a modular reception hall outside the Nork Infectious Diseases Hospital with the capacity for 40 beds.
Noting a slight decrease in day-to-day infection rates, the Minister warned that this doesn’t mean the contagion has stopped spreading. Echoing the Prime Minister’s call for citizens to remain indoors, Torosyan explained that the measure was necessary to slow the infection rate enough to ensure that the health system can cope, a strategy dubbed “flattening the curve.”
The Armenian economy is bracing for the effects of global disruptions on trade, travel and quarantine measures. Tourism and export-oriented business sectors have been hit particularly hard. Economy Minister Tigran Khachatryan warned of “significant short-term challenges” facing the country at a press conference last week. The government is acting to mitigate these effects on businesses and vulnerable members of society and has earmarked 150 billion AMD (over $300 million) to subsidize business loans for companies to fulfill payroll and operational costs. An emergency fund set up by the government to support efforts against the virus has reportedly received over 1,400 donations totaling 350 million AMD ($700,000 US). On Monday, Pashinyan announced yet another round of emergency support and bailouts for small businesses, asking citizens to provide input.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has been coordinating the door-to-door delivery of pensions, food supplies and hygienic kits to 80-thousand socially vulnerable people across the country including over four-thousand seniors living alone. Supermarkets have also pledged to institute “seniors only” shopping hours to ensure they get their essentials, though Armenia hasn’t seen the sort of hoarding observed elsewhere.
In light of these measures, however, social workers say they’re preparing to deal with a spike in domestic violence cases. Maro Matosian, executive director at the Women’s Support Center (WSC), told the Armenian Weekly that prolonged home confinement risks isolating a victim at the mercy of their abuser with fewer means to seek outside help. “While our staff will be working from home, volunteers will be manning a 24-hour hotline [+374-99-88-78-08] and both of our safe houses are on alert to take in any survivors,” said Matosian, adding that counseling and advocacy services will be conducted remotely.
The WSC is already providing for 34 families of domestic abuse survivors and asking donors to help shoulder the sudden cost of harboring new families in the weeks to come. “Many of these women who broke the cycle of violence must now continue to care for children who are home from school alone, while also facing the prospect of unemployment,” explains Matosian. The WSC is also asking people to set aside second hand clothing which will be collected after the emergency situation is lifted.
Armenians have also taken it upon themselves to assist the government’s social outreach efforts. Campaigns have appeared on Facebook urging people to order delivery from their favorite restaurants in order to provide them with a crucial cash flow as they shut down. Musicians, DJs, comedians and other entertainers have also turned to Facebook Live to lift the spirits of those who have been observing self-isolation measures over the last 10 days.
The Health Minister did announce some good news, however. While the second coronavirus patient to recover was released from hospital on Monday, at least 15 more are expected to make full recoveries by Wednesday. In total, almost 70 people will be released from quarantine after testing negative.