Pashinyan announces strict lockdown measures as COVID-19 cases increase

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.” 

Locals taking a walk at Cascade in Yerevan (Photo: Raffi Elliott)

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.

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

5 Comments

  1. It seems like every world leader is doing something intelligent about the coronavirus except for the overgrown Oompa Loompa in charge of the US.

    • You think staging mass public rallies in early March and urging people to attend them was intelligent? It’s the most irresponsible behavior I’ve read of around the word. Then curbing the media so they are disallowed to say anything about covid except quote the govt, you seen that in any other country worth a comparison?

    • Blossom

      Are you referring to the referendum rallies? Those were called off as soon as soon as the 2nd infection case was confirmed. The Government here swept into action quite rapidly and took appropriate measures in a timely manner.

  2. I’m glad to see that the Republic of Armenia is taking the coronavirus outbreak more seriously than the US or U.K. Armenia took the necessary step of closing educational institutions long before the US, UK and Australia did. So let’s give credit where credit is due

  3. Hasmik, when exactly were they called off? Even one mass rally is one too many when your neighboring country is on fire with infections. It’s reckless to have done them. The whole world was figuring out how to make people disburse when this leader were calling people to converge at mass rallies in early March, as far as I can tell. Didn’t the top officials announce two-week holidays so they would campaign at rallies? I don’t know how anyone can excuse such selfish disregard for public health.

    In a place like Armenia, where power and decision making is organized in a centralized, concentrated and linear manner, these responses are easy to organize by design. It’s sort of a perfect setup, unlike US where disparate city, state and federal governments push and pull for resources and organizing. So, yes, give credit where it’s due, while recognizing the backdrop.

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