COVID-19 Cases Continue Increasing in Armenia

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YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — On April 16, a large amount of medical supplies necessary for protecting front-line health care workers fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Armenia on a charter flight from China.

Thanks to a $100,000 donation from the Izmirlian Foundation (as well as donations from other charitable organizations) and as facilitated by the United Nations World Food Program in Armenia (UNWFP) with the support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, more than 150,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) items, including medical suits, masks, gowns, safety goggles, gloves etc. were delivered to the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Armenia.

In addition, the United States will provide additional $600,000 to Armenia for fighting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Armenian deputy foreign minister Avet Adonts said at a press conference this week.

On March 28 the US State Department announced that together with the USAID it would provide $1.1 million to Armenia aimed at improving the healthcare field, in particular developing the laboratory systems, increasing the capacities for diagnosing coronavirus, assisting the expert circles, etc.

Health Minister Arsen Torosyan called for “additional efforts” to slow the spread of coronavirus in Armenia on April 21 after authorities reported the highest daily increase in infections in more than two weeks.

The Armenian Ministry of Health said in the morning of April 21 that the number of coronavirus cases rose by 62, to 1,401, while 29 other persons recovered from COVID-19 in the past day. It also reported two more fatalities which raised the country’s death toll from the virus to 24.

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Torosyan said that official statistics for the last several days indicate a “steady” rate of new infections standing at 3-4 percent. “We also have approximately the same number of hospitalized people, which varies from 700 to 800,” he wrote on Facebook.

But the minister also said: “This means that we all must make additional efforts to lower the peace of the spread [of the disease] and have no right to relax and lose our vigilance.”

“Especially worrying are recent days’ cases [of infection] among healthcare workers at medical centers in Yerevan and regions,” he added. “The use of personal protective equipment is far more important for healthcare workers than for other citizens.”

Hasmik Ghazinyan, a senior doctor at Yerevan’s Nork hospital treating only COVID-19 patients, complained that many Armenians are not following social distancing rules or wearing masks or gloves when leaving their homes. She warned of a surge in infections in the days ahead.

“Our doctors, medical personnel are acting heroically on the frontline [of the fight against coronavirus,] … but the rear (other citizens) does not seem to be safeguarding the achievements of the frontline workers,” Ghazinyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

“I think the reason for this is that people are not taking [the epidemic] seriously and believe that it’s based on false information,” said Giorgi Kantaria, a doctor from the Surp Grigor Lusavorich hospital who is currently treating about 100 infected people quarantined at a Yerevan hotel.

“I want to assure them that it’s real and their help is also necessary,” said Kantaria. “Doctors’ help is not enough.”

Such appeals fell on deaf ears in the northern city of Vanadzor where more than 2,000 employees of the local textile factory, Gloria, defied a government to return to their workplaces on Tuesday, April 21, one month after being put on unpaid leave. Police officers fined several of them but had to leave the premises after being confronted by hundreds of mostly female workers.

The angry women said they want the factory to immediately resume its work because they are no longer able to support themselves and their families. They claimed that they have not received financial assistance allocated by the Armenian government to tens of thousands of people hit hard by economic disruptions resulting from the epidemic.

Maralik Cordoned Off

Authorities sealed off a small town and an adjacent village in Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province on Sunday, April 19, after 18 employees of a local hospital tested positive for coronavirus.

Two local residents died from COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the virus, after the Armenian police set up roadblocks around the town of Maralik and the village of Dzorakap in the morning.

The head of the provincial administration’s healthcare department, Leyli Aslanyan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on April 20 that one of them, a 90-year-old man, was the father of an infected nurse working at the Maralik hospital.

Aslanyan said that the old man was diagnosed with coronavirus just hours before his death. His family declined offers to hospitalize him even though he had a fever for almost a week, she said.

The Maralik hospital was temporarily shut down on Saturday after the 18 coronavirus cases were confirmed among its 61-member staff. Shirak’s governor, Tigran Petrosyan, said the infected medical personnel were taken to a hospital in the provincial capital Gyumri while their colleagues were placed under quarantine. The authorities also ordered more than 40 relatives and friends of the infected medics to self-isolate, he said.

Local officials did not disclose the suspected source of the infections. Another Maralik resident died from coronavirus early this month. The 68-year-old man was reportedly taken to the local medical center before being hospitalized in Gyumri.

The latest fatalities brought Armenia’s death toll from COVID-19 to 22. The Armenian Ministry of Health reported on Monday morning that the total number of coronavirus cases in the country rose by 48 to 1,339 in the past day.

Armenian President Concerned

President Armen Sarkissian has said that he feels the pain of scores of poor Armenians who have lost their jobs and other sources of income due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a weekend interview, Sarkissian stressed the need to find the right “balance” between easing their hardship through renewed business activity and tackling the deadly virus.

“My thoughts are constantly with such families because they lack reserves, so to speak, to get by for one, two or three months [without work,]” he said. “They obviously need assistance and that assistance must come not only from the state.

“Of course, the state and business need to cooperate very closely, and I can see that the government is taking some steps in the financial, social and business sectors. To the best of my ability, I certainly give my advice when necessary, but it’s a quite difficult problem.”

“It’s not an Armenian problem, it’s a global problem, and it’s hard to find the right balance between public health and public well-being,” added Sarkissian.

The Armenian government ordered a nationwide lockdown last month in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus. Since then it has also approved a series of measures designed to cushion the severe economic impact of the lockdown.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan listed those measures in a televised address to the nation aired on Friday, April 17. In particular, he touted some 7 billion drams ($14.4 million) in one-off cash handouts planned or already paid by the government to about 100,000 socially vulnerable citizens. They include employees of private firms forced to suspend their operations, microbusiness owners, self-employed and unregistered workers as well as some pregnant women.

“The most endangered stratum in our country is those people who had no permanent jobs and were dependent on day labor; those families that have always had very modest incomes,” said Sarkissian. “Just imagine what a difficult time those families … are having now.”

(Reports from Mediamax, RFE/RL, Arsen Torosyan’s Facebook site and Armenpress were used to compile this story.)

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