YEREVAN—The Armenian Ministry of Health announced on Wednesday that it had registered 230 new cases of COVID-19 during the previous 24-hour period. At the same time, 255 recovered patients have been discharged from hospital.
This announcement marks the first time that the number of daily new recoveries surpassed the number of newly confirmed cases since mid-April, when the first rounds of lockdown easing came into force.
Following a three-week period of nearly flat new infection rates between April 12 and April 25, the numbers steadily began to increase again in parallel with each new round of lifting restrictions on freedom of movement and business activity. Most restrictions were rolled back between May 4 and May 14 with the condition that strict hygiene and safety protocols be implemented.
On May 14, the Armenian parliament voted to remove remaining restrictions on public transit and indoor commercial activity, but also instituted a mandatory mask policy in public with fines of up to 10,000 AMD ($20) for non-compliance. At the same time, the government also extended the State of Emergency by another month in order to clear any constitutional constraints on Public Health Authorities’ ability to quickly react to potential future outbreaks.
The government’s decision to scale down these regulations while the pandemic is still uncontained has been met with criticism by some. However, the Prime Minister responded that projections anticipate new cases continuing into next year or until a vaccine becomes widely available. “It’s not realistic to keep the entire country locked up for another year,” he explained in early May.
Health Minister Arsen Torosyan, who earlier had warned that first responders might soon have to ask patients without symptoms to self-isolate as emergency wards reach capacity, has already conducted the first online courses with medical personnel around the country on how to monitor such asymptomatic patients. Over the course of the pandemic, the healthcare system has managed to free up resources to care for up to four thousand patients – up from 350 in February. However, the steady rise in cases has led the Ministry to adjust its strategy to focus care on those showing symptoms.
Indeed, new case rates hit a record high of 351 in a single day on May 18, before subsiding again in the following days. The increase in new registered cases might be attributed in part to vast improvements in testing and contact-tracing operations. At least 44-thousand tests have been conducted since the outbreak began. Notably, despite the exponential increase in testing, the percentage of positive returns has continued to hover at around 10 percent, suggesting that the total rate of infections has remained constant. Daily recovery rates have also begun to rise sharply over the last week. Thus the number of active cases has actually dropped for the first time from 2,788 to 2,758, providing much-needed respite to the medical system.
As of Wednesday May 20, Armenia has registered a total of 5,271 cases of COVID-19, 2,758 of which are still active. Of those, less than a thousand have shown any symptoms. Officials say 2,419 patients have already recovered, while 67 have died.
Editor’s note (05/26/2020): The 100,000 AMD figure published in a previous version of this article for face mask directive non-compliance fines has been amended to 10,000 AMD ($20)