Prime Minister Nikol pashinyan

Pashinyan Urges Better Enforcement of Social Distancing, Masks in Public, As Cases Surge

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told the Armenian police on Tuesday, June 9, to step up the enforcement of social distancing and other rules meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Pashinyan said this must be the primary task of the newly appointed chief of the national police service, Vahe Ghazaryan.

“The quality of the work of the police will continue to be essential in the fight against the epidemic,” he said, introducing Ghazaryan to senior police officials. “As much as we realize that the entire police staff is on the verge of exhaustion, new impetus should be given [to police efforts] no matter how impossible that may seem.”

Ghazaryan was appointed as police chief on Monday immediately after the sacking of his predecessor, Arman Sargsyan. The latter was in charge of police for only 9 months.

Pashinyan gave no clear reasons for Sargsyan’s sacking at the meeting with the senior police officials. But his remarks suggest that he was dissatisfied with ongoing efforts to make Armenians practice social distancing, wear face masks in all public areas and take other precautions against the virus.

Pashinyan ordered authorities to toughen the enforcement of those rules on June 2 as the COVID-19 epidemic in Armenia reached alarming proportions. He stated the following day that citizens’ failure to comply with them had become so widespread that there is little the police can do about it.

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The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 13,325 on June 8 after the authorities reported 195 new infections. The daily figure was sharply down from previous days’ official statistics because the largest Armenian coronavirus lab was shut down on Sunday for what the Ministry of Health described as “prophylactic” maintenance.

The ministry said that only 829 COVID-19 tests were performed on Sunday, compared with some 2,500 tests carried out on Saturday. The number of new cases reached a fresh daily of 766 as a result of Saturday’s tests.

The ministry also reported 11 more coronavirus deaths on Monday, bringing the official death toll to 211. The figure does not include the deaths of 72 other people who were also infected with the coronavirus. The ministry says that those fatalities were primarily caused by other, preexisting conditions.

The police claim to have fined since then many more people who did not wear face masks in cars or buses.

Like Pashinyan, Ghazaryan was born and raised in Ijevan, a small town and the administrative center of Armenia’s northern Tavush province.

Ghazaryan has rapidly worked his way up the police hierarchy since the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018 that brought Pashinyan to power. He was appointed as chief of the police department of Tavush in May 2018 and became the commander of Armenian interior troops a year later.

MORE FROM Armenia & Karabakh

Pashinyan assured the senior policemen on Tuesday that the police service is now fully merit-based and that political or personal connections will play no role in their promotion.

Textile Factories Hit

Two more textile factories in Armenia suspended their operations on June 9 after dozens of their workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Gyumri-based factories belonging to the local Lentex and Svetex companies employ a total of about 400 people.

Tigran Petrosyan, the governor of the surrounding Shirak province, said 120 workers underwent coronavirus tests; nearly half of which came back positive on Monday. He said the company owners decided to temporarily shut down their plants without any government orders.

“Svetex decided to take a two-week break while Lentex is discussing mechanisms and ways of continuing its work,” Petrosyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

“We can’t operate right now because the [infected] people have self-isolated while others, who feel unwell, are having tests in policlinics,” said the Lentex owner, Karen Gomtsyan.

Gomtsyan said he will decide “in the coming days” when to reopen the plant. He suggested that some of his 350 or so employees will return to work soon so that Lentex can fulfill its contractual obligations to foreign buyers. They have not been in contact with infected workers and “feel well,” he said.

The provincial administration has reported 135 coronavirus cases among residents of Gyumri and other Shirak communities. Only 42 of them are in hospital at present.

Armenia’s largest textile plant located in Vanadzor, the administrative center of neighboring Lori province, has been hit by a similar COVID-19 outbreak. Authorities ordered the Gloria company’s plant to close on June 3 one of day after three of its 2,600 predominantly female workers tested positive for the virus.

The Lori governor, Andrei Ghukasyan, pledged to help people. “We keep in touch with everyone by phone to see if they need food,” he said. “We have food packages that will be delivered to them by our workers and volunteers so that they don’t leave their homes.”

Gloria will remain closed at least until June 20. This and other Armenian firms manufacturing clothing were allowed to resume their work in late April following a month-long stoppage ordered by the government as part of a nationwide lockdown. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on April 12 that the textile industry should be able to reopen despite being “the main driving force” of coronavirus infections in the country.

 

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