Police check a woman’s identification papers during the lockdown

Deaths Rise in Armenia, Lockdown Extended

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Two more people in Armenia have died from coronavirus, raising to three the domestic death toll from the disease, Health Minister Arsen Torosyan said on Sunday, March 29.

Torosyan said both victims, a 55-year-old woman and a 73-year-old man, also suffered from pre-existing medical conditions.

Another victim was a 72-year-old woman.

“Doctors did everything to save their lives, but unfortunately they did not succeed,” he wrote on Facebook.

Armenia reported its first coronavirus-related death on Thursday, March 26. According to Torosyan, 13 COVID-19 patients were kept in the hospital’s intensive care unit as of Saturday.

The government has extended a nationwide lockdown by at least ten days because of a continuing increase in coronavirus cases in the county, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Tuesday, March 31.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan appeals to Armenians, March 31, 2020

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The government imposed one-week restrictions on people’s movements and ordered the closure of most businesses on March 24. Since then Armenians have only been allowed out to buy food, receive medical care or briefly exercise near their places of residence. The curfew does not apply to a limited number of public and private sector employees allowed to continue to go to work.

Despite these measures the virus has continued to spread. The Armenian Ministry of Health said on Tuesday morning that 50 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been registered in the past 24 hours, bringing their total number to 532.

“This statistics worries us,” Pashinyan said when he announced the government’s decision to extend the lockdown.

The premier complained that some Armenians remain complacent about the epidemic and ignore stay-at-home orders issued by the authorities. “The situation is very risky and I want to call on all of us to take it very seriously,” he said in a live Facebook broadcast.

“Dear compatriots, stay at home and protect your and your loved ones’ health,” he added.

“The restrictions will be tightened further,” Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan told a news conference held afterwards. “We must also make the monitoring more effective. We are therefore going to beef up police forces [enforcing the lockdown] with various forces from other structures.”

Torosyan also reported that ten more people have been cured of the COVID-19 virus, raising to 28 the total number of such recoveries in Armenia.

According to Armenian government data, Yerevan accounts for around half of the infections. The vast majority of the other coronavirus cases were registered in the surrounding Armavir, Ararat and Kotayk provinces.

Health authorities have quarantined at least 3,000 people in the last two weeks. Officials say around 150 of them have been released from the two-week quarantine after repeatedly testing negative for the virus.

The Armenian government declared a state of emergency and closed all schools and universities on March 16 shortly after reporting the first coronavirus cases. Earlier this week, it also ordered the closure of most businesses and imposed stringent restrictions on people’s movement in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.

Empty streets in Yerevan

Armenians are only allowed out to buy food, receive medical care and briefly exercise. When leaving their homes they must carry IDs and filled-out forms explaining their reasons for not staying indoors. The Armenian police said that in the last three days they have fined more than 1,400 people for not complying with these restrictions.

The authorities have also suspended bus services between Yerevan and the rest of the country. Deputy Minister for Local Government Armen Simonyan told reporters on Friday, March 27. that public transport links among communities located within each of the ten provinces outside the Armenian capital will also be temporarily banned.

Armenia’s borders with Georgia and Iran were closed for travel earlier this month. People have since been able to enter and leave the country only by air. According to Simonyan, only one Belarusian and four Russian airlines continued to fly to and from Yerevan on Friday.

This means that Armenia will be effectively cut off from the outside world after a Russian government ban on all commercial flights abroad comes into force early on Saturday.

Stimulus Plan

The government formally approved on Thursday, March 26 a multimillion-dollar stimulus package designed to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses and ordinary people.

A parliament debate of the relief package

The plan makes most Armenian firms as well as farmers eligible for financial assistance or credit subsidies.

It also calls for one-off cash handouts to citizens who have lost their jobs this month due to economic disruption caused by coronavirus. They will receive 100,000 drams ($200) each if they have children under the age of 14 and are the sole breadwinners of their families.

Among them are the employees of hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, clothing stores and other businesses that were closed after March 13. Depending on their monthly wages, they will get between 68,000 and 136,000 drams in compensation.

The main focus of the wide-ranging aid is on struggling businesses. In particular, creditworthy firms and individual entrepreneurs will receive grants worth $500 million (just over $1 million) if they pledge to use that money to pay their workers’ wages, buy equipment or raw materials or pay taxes. The scheme will not apply to Armenian banks, insurance companies and casinos.

The government will pay similar sums to small-scale individual entrepreneurs also affected by the lockdown.

Opposition politicians have expressed serious concern about the plight of people involved in the informal sector of the Armenian economy. They have urged the government to take care of them as well.

Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan did not rule out the possibility of such assistance when he spoke at a news conference later on Monday, March 30. He stressed, though, that the government currently sees no effective mechanisms for extending the coronavirus relief package to the “unregistered jobs.”

The government will also enable small firms to receive low-interest loans with subsidies to be paid to commercial banks.

The banks will also be paid to provide cheap credit to farmers across the country. The latter will be able to borrow up to 1 million drams each and avoid paying any interest for two years.

Pashinyan insisted that the coronavirus relief package will not only help the domestic economy weather the storm but also lay the groundwork for its renewed expansion during “the post-epidemic period.”

The premier did not specify the total amount of the emergency funding. He said last week that the government plans to inject at least 150 billion drams ($300 million) into the economy. Armenia’s overall public spending is projected to total around $4 billion this year.

Opposition leaders dismissed the promised aid as insufficient. During a parliament debate on Wednesday, some of them called on the government to impose a blanket freeze on all loan repayments in the country.

The government approved last week a set of other measures designed to shore up the economy. In particular, it said creditworthy firms and individual entrepreneurs will receive grants worth $500 million (just over $1 million) if they pledge to use that money to pay their workers’ wages, buy equipment or raw materials or pay taxes. The scheme will not apply to Armenian banks, insurance companies and casinos.

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