Coronavirus politics: why has Armenia become the regional leader in coronavirus deaths?
Armenia is lifting the quarantine in the midst of a rise in the daily number of new COVID-19 cases. The total number of cases is rapidly approaching 4,000. And this means that the healthcare system may soon be unable to hospitalize new coronavirus patients: only those who experience complications will be admitted to the hospital.
Why did Armenia, a country with a relatively small population which closed its borders, end up becoming the regional leader in coronavirus cases?
Who is to blame?
The first coronavirus case in Armenia was reported on March 1. By mid-May, the country already has 3,500 patients. Around 30% of them have recovered, and 47 have died.
This is the largest figure among the three countries in the region. For comparison, the number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia is around six times lower than in Armenia. Azerbaijan also has fewer infections – around 1,000 less.
Armenia declared a state of emergency at the beginning of March. Cafes and restaurants were closed, as well as practically all businesses, hair salons, and stores, with the exception of grocery stores. People were not allowed to go outside unless absolutely necessary, and even then had to fill out a special form indicating their expected return.
The country closed its border with Iran and Georgia. Some experts believe that this decision was made in a timely manner, others think it was too late, and furthermore, at the onset of the epidemic, the country’s leadership did not have the proper attitude towards the situation. This is also evidenced by the Bright Armenia opposition faction MP Gevorg Gorgisyan.
“In the beginning, the authorities didn’t treat the virus threat seriously. While the opposition talked about the need to close the border with Iran, shut down air travel between countries, and quarantine all those coming into the country, the authorities conducted a campaign and made frivolous statements about the virus. Today, the result of these actions is plain to see.”
Coronavirus hit the Armenian political establishment during an active campaign for constitutional changes. Mass gatherings were held in many cities with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in attendance, who, as a result, had to take the coronavirus test two times. At that time, the head of the cabinet stated that they had managed to cope with the epidemic quickly, and Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan announced that COVID-19 was not a serious disease.
Ruling My Step Alliance MP Eriknaz Tigranyan said that the state of emergency and steps taken by the commandant’s office were timely, and that the large number of infected people was not due to mistakes on the part of the authorities.
“Our first case was reported on March 1. We then followed the steps decided upon by the government. On March 16, we declared a state of emergency. At the initial stage, not much was known about the virus. And even the World Health Organization did not have a single unified point of view on some issues. However, the commandant’s office took all the necessary steps.”
The MP believes that the statistics in other countries do not reflect the real situation, since neither Georgia nor Azerbaijan are testing as much as Armenia.
“In Georgia, there have this category of people who are ‘under surveillance.’ And it is still not clear what exactly this means. And we test everyone who is suspected of having the virus. Many countries are not doing what we are doing, and only treat those who have complications.”
At the same time, the commandant’s office and the Armenian Ministry of Health have repeatedly stated that if not for the measures they introduced, hundreds of thousands of people could become infected with the coronavirus. These restrictions made it possible to control the spread of the virus in the country. However, not all residents complied with quarantine.
Why didn’t the quarantine work?
Everyone acknowledges that far from everyone adhered to the quarantine restrictions. This is most likely the main reason for the rapid spread of the disease.
Opposition MP Gevorg Gorgisyan believes that a more effective control system has been introduced in European countries. In Armenia, the special travel forms citizens needed to fill out were more formal.
“Our citizens could write anything on a piece of paper and leave the house. People did not take this step seriously. The decisions made by the commandant’s office were not substantiated and logical enough to ensure that they were well implemented.”
Politicians note that even large fines did nothing to remedy the situation, since many were certain that the authorities would later waive them.
Some citizens really did not take the situation seriously, notes ruling My Alliance Faction MP Narek Zeynalyan, however, the commandant is not to blame for this:
“There were a lot of factors in play here. For example, national characteristics, the habit of visiting one another. And this has become one of the reasons for the spread of the disease. The commandant’s office took the same steps that were taken around the world.”
Opposition MP Gevorg Gorgisyan insists that these necessary measures were taken too late:
“In those countries where they started to impose these restrictions earlier, for instance, New Zealand and Georgia, the situation is much better than in Armenia.”
Will the numbers continue to grow?
In Armenia, more than a hundred new cases are reported daily, and the growth rate has not decreased over the past 10 days. The commandant’s office admits that it is no longer in control of all of the epicenters of infection, which continue to pop up spontaneously around the country.
Oppositionist Gevorg Gorgisyan is certain that we should not expect to see a slowdown in rate of infection in the near future, even despite the improved weather conditions:
“The virus is spreading all over the world. And even the prime minister said that in the fall, perhaps, there will be a second wave. Some forecasts predict that this situation may last a year.”
There is no question that borders will be opening in the near future, says Eriknaz Tigranyan. But all states are being forced to lift restrictions, as the economy needs to be revitalized. Hundreds of enterprises have already returned to normal operations. There is no other way, the ruling party MP is sure, and people should get used to living and working in new conditions.
Ruling party MP Narek Zeynalyan also talks about the citizens’ need to observe the precautionary measures and about everyone’s personal responsibility:
“The restrictions have been lifted, but this does not mean that you do not need to use masks, gloves, and antibacterials.”