Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Friday that despite the continuing rapid spread of coronavirus in Armenia his government still hopes to contain the epidemic without imposing a fresh nationwide lockdown.
Pashinyan insisted that while renewed lockdown restrictions are one of the options currently considered by the government they are not necessarily a panacea for ending the country’s deepening coronavirus crisis.
“Suppose that coronavirus indicators in Armenia are miraculously reduced to zero with the help of administrative levers,” he told a daily news briefing. “But … if there is no change in our individual behavior, as soon as we open up to the outside world potentially infected people will come to Armenia and we will have to do everything all over again.”
“So I’m thinking along these lines: we must together solve this problem with mass changes of our individual behavior,” he said. “In this regard, I believe in Armenia’s citizens and believe that solutions to this and other problems lie in our consciousness and we should follow the path of changing our consciousness and behavior.”
Accordingly, Pashinyan repeated his calls for the population to practice social distancing, wear masks in all public and enclosed spaces, frequently wash hands and stay away from large gatherings. Citizens should also alert help authorities fight against violations of these safety rules, he said.
Critics of the government are skeptical about the effectiveness of this strategy. They say that only a renewed lockdown can make a difference.
Pashinyan admitted earlier this week that the Armenian health authorities are also favoring such a drastic solution. He voiced misgivings, saying that it could cost the Armenian economy dearly. He also argued that the government had already issued stay-at-home orders, banned public transport and shut down most businesses in late March.
Critics counter that the authorities never properly enforced the lockdown and ended it too soon. They cite the example of many European countries and especially neighboring Georgia whose government only recently began easing serious curbs on people’s freedom of movements and reopening the domestic economy.
The Georgian authorities have so far reported 805 coronavirus cases and only 13 deaths caused by them, compared with 11,817 cases and at least 183 fatalities registered in Armenia.
On Thursday alone, the Armenian Ministry of Health recorded about 600 single-day COVID-19 infections. By contrast, only 4 people in Georgia tested positive for the virus.
Health Minister Arsen Torosyan warned on Thursday that Armenia’s healthcare system is now so overstretched that hospitals may soon be unable to admit all infected people in need of urgent treatment.