Taking temperatures in Echmiadzin

Stricter Restrictions on Life in Armenia as Virus Takes Hold

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YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — Armenia is imposing tougher restrictions on public life in an effort to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Facebook Tuesday, March 24, addressed people there, noting that people will have to carry passports or identity cards when leaving home.

“Citizens spotted in the street should have a clear explanation of where they are going, and that explanation should fit into the logic of vital movement,” Pashinyan said.

Pashinyan encouraged the public to do their shopping online, adding that all the banks, supermarkets and pharmacies will serve people aged above 65 between 10 a.m. and midday.

He urged citizens against social gatherings and said that no more than two people should be outside together.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Armenia has reached 249 as of Tuesday, March 24. Forty one new cases were recorded.

The country declared a 30-day state of emergency on March 16 and banned citizens of 16 nations from entering the country.

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So far, two patients have recovered from the coronavirus in Armenia.

Pashinyan said on March 23 that his government will order the closure of all cafes, restaurants and most other businesses due to a continuing spread of coronavirus in Armenia.

Empty restaurants and cafes in Yerevan

Pashinyan made the announcement as the number of officially registered coronavirus cases in the country rose by 41 to 235. He described as “worrying” the fact that some of the new infections were detected at two manufacturing facilities located in Yerevan and central Kotayk province.

Dozens of people working at another Yerevan factory reportedly contracted the virus earlier this month. According to Armenian officials, a visitor from Italy was the primary source of those infections.

“In these circumstances, we have to take more restrictive measures in order to be able to stop the further spread of the virus,” Pashinyan said in a Facebook video appeal aired shortly after midnight.

For that purpose, he said, the government will close all cafes, restaurants and most other private enterprises for at least one week. A government body enforcing the coronavirus-related state of emergency in Armenia will release a list of those enterprises on Tuesday, he said.

Pashinyan stressed that food stores as well as firms manufacturing foodstuffs, beverages and personal hygiene items will be allowed to continue to operate for now.

“I am calling on our compatriots to stay at home as much as possible and to leave their homes only in case of extreme necessity,” added Pashinyan.

All Armenian bars, night clubs and other entertainment spots were shut down on Sunday, March 22. The government reported 190 coronavirus cases at that point.

Pashinyan stressed that only 25 of the individuals infected with the deadly virus to date are suffering from pneumonia. He insisted that their lives are not at risk.

Two other patients have recovered from the disease in the past week, according to Armenian health authorities. The authorities have reported no fatalities yet.

Leaving the house with facemasks

Some 600 Armenians were kept in quarantine and hundreds of others in self-isolation before the announcement of the latest official COVID-19 statistics. In Pashinyan’s words, more than 70 of them will undergo final coronavirus tests at the end of their two-week confinement on Tuesday. He said there are “grounds to think” that most of them will test negative for the virus.

The premier did not say how many new confinement orders will be issued by the authorities as a result of the latest coronavirus cases

Travel Restrictions

As of 22 March the list of countries whose citizens cannot enter Armenia includes: the United States of America, the Commonwealth of Australia, EU member states (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Republic of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden), Switzerland, Norway, Turkey, China, Iran, Republic of Korea, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Russian Federation, Georgia.

Those countries were named because they have high rates of infection.

Armenian citizens, their family members and legal residency status holders are permitted to enter the territory of the Republic of Armenia without restrictions.

Citizens will not be able to leave the territory of the Republic of Armenia by land, except for cargo transport drivers.

Citizens of Armenia and foreign nationals traveling to Armenia will undergo intensive checking procedures at Armenian border checkpoints. In case relevant symptoms are identified, hospitalization, isolation (self-isolation) and/or other restrictive measures will be carried out.

All persons traveling from coronavirus outbreak high risk countries will be transferred to specially designated quarantine locations or may be subjected to mandatory self-isolation.”

China Aid

China reportedly pledged on Monday, March 23, to provide Armenia with more medical supplies needed for containing the spread of coronavirus in the South Caucasus country.

Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Avet Adonts requested such aid during a video conference with the Chinese ambassador in Yerevan, Tian Erlong.

“Ambassador Tian stated that China is ready to provide additional aid to Armenia by donating protective medical uniforms and lung ventilation devices worth $110,000,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on the conversation.

“Ambassador Tian emphasized the readiness of the Chinese side to continue close cooperation with Armenia in resolving various issues in the fight against the novel coronavirus, stressing the importance of international unity and solidarity in the fight against the pandemic,” it added.

The statement also cited Adonts as thanking Beijing for donating more than 1,000 coronavirus test kits which he said were delivered to Armenia late last week.

Tian promised that donation at a March 6 meeting with Armenian Health Minister Arsen Torosian. According to Torosian’s office, the envoy also announced that the Chinese Embassy has “allocated funding to Armenia for the acquisition ofadditional medical items.”

Meeting with Tian later in the day, President Armen Sarkissian said the Chinese assistance is “very important” for Armenia’s ongoing efforts to combat the virus.

The Armenian authorities confirmed the first case of the COVID-19 virus in the country on March 1.

Yerevan suspended for two months visa free-travel between Armenia and China on January 31 as the virus rapidly spread in China’s Hubei province.

According to the Foreign Ministry statement, Adonts and Tian discussed the “prolongation” of the Chinese-Armenian visa regime. “The sides agreed to keep close contact regarding the issue and coordinate steps taken by both sides,” said the statement.

Jail Terms

Armenia’s parliament backed on Monday a government proposal to introduce jail sentences for people defying quarantine or self-isolation orders issued by health authorities dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

The Armenian government moved to impose these and other penalties last week following the declaration of a one-month state of emergency aimed at containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the country.

The National Assembly tentatively approved a relevant government bill on Friday. The bill underwent a number of changes before being passed in the second and final reading three days later.

It calls for prison sentences ranging from one to five years and fines of between 300,000 and 1 million drams ($600-$2000) for various types of violation of the confinement orders. The harshest punishment, 3 to 5 years’ imprisonment, is envisaged for cases where a breach of quarantine or self-isolation leads to fatal infections of other individuals.

The two opposition parties represented in the parliament backed these measures after the government and the parliament majority loyal to it incorporated some of their proposals into the bill. In particular, the authorities agreed to somewhat ease their controversial restrictions on the spread of coronavirus-related information.

The bill initially stipulated that all media reports and social media posts regarding the COVID-19 virus must reflect information provided by government sources. Opposition politicians, civic activists and journalists were quick to decry this provision, saying that it legalizes censorship and puts unnecessary curbs on press freedom in the country.

The fact that at least two Armenian publications were ordered to delete coronavirus-related stories from their websites in recent days only added to the criticism. Law-enforcement authorities also controversially forced several Facebook users to delete their posts critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

The final version of the bill does not make private individuals violating the social media restrictions liable for fines. But it retains financial penalties for broadcasters as well as print and online media that will disseminate unauthorized information about the deadly virus.

(Sources: PanArmenian.net, Panorama.am, Armenpress, RFE/RL)

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