Armenia extends coronavirus restrictions, launches online system tracking people’s movement
The number of reported coronavirus cases in Armenia reached 571 on April 1. 31 people have recovered, three have died, and 150 are in quarantine.
Armenia has extended the period of movement restriction under the state of emergency, which was declared in light of the coronavirus epidemic, until April 14.
The prime minister warned that there was a possibility that these stringent measures would be extended, even before.
“We are forced to extend the emergency restrictions by at least 10 days. The statistics are concerning. There are two extremes we are trying to avoid: one is panic, the other is treating the situation too lightly. We ran the risk of mass panic, but we were able to keep the situation under control. It seems that we swung to the other extreme – being too calm about the situation,” said Pashinyan during a live stream on his Facebook page.
In order to prevent further spread of the virus, parliament approved a law allowing the government to track people’s movement and communications. This will be done through a special program, which people will need to download on their mobile phones.
This initiative was only supported by parliament members from the ruling party. The opposition refused to vote, despite assurances from the authors of the bill that:
- all personal data will be deleted immediately after the state of emergency ends,
- the government will not tap phone calls.
The Minister of Justice, who presented the bill, explained that the online system will only be track people’s location and circle of direct communication, which will allow them to quickly isolate anyone who came in contact with an infected patient.
More restrictions from the commandant’s office:
These are the new restrictions being implemented:
- All public transport, with the exception of trains, will be shut down. Taxis are still permitted to operate. The decision states that people will only be allowed to commute to work and back.
- Travel between marz [districts] is restricted. To ensure compliance, police and the National Security Service were instructed to establish special checkpoints starting from 14:00 on April 1.
- Travel in cars with family members and work colleagues is permitted without any limit on the number of people to a car.
- Before leaving for work, people must submit a form that will be filled out by their employer, indicating their name and surname, passport number, company name, position and working hours.
- Sanitary and hygienic standards in office premises are more stringent. Employees must maintain a distance of two meters from each other, and there must be one tap with running water per ten employees.
- Employees are advised to offer remote work options for people over the age of 60, those with chronic diseases, and parents of small children.
- As has been the case since March 25, those who must leave the house are required to fill out a form with their address, reason for leaving, and expected time of return.
Who is allowed to work
– Telecommunication companies will serve the population through the internet (on-site repairs will only be done in urgent cases).
– The same situation with utilities companies: all payments will be accepted online or through payment machines. Only emergency repairs will be carried done on-site.
– Banks and insurance companies will operate on a limited basis.
– All agricultural work is permitted, as well as the production of food and alcoholic beverages.
– Mines will continue operations.
– Pharmaceutical companies, paper and cardboard factories, printing houses, plastic bags and packaging production sites will continue operations.
– Production of soap and detergents is still permitted.
– Production of perfume is still permitted.
– Pharmacies, grocery stores, auto parts stores, and gas stations will remain open.
– Cafeterias on the premises of organizations that are still in operation will remain open.
– Hotels are permitted to stay open.
Clothing stores, restaurants, cafes and bars remain closed
Details on the new bill
The bill on online tracking of movement and circle of communication during a state of emergency sparked heated debates in parliament. The opposition was categorically against allowing government organizations to track citizens’ location and telephone calls to prevent the spread of the virus.
However, the ruling majority had enough votes to pass the bill, and it was approved on March 31, although only on the second attempt.
The opposition was concerned about the following issues:
- the use of citizens’ personal information,
- which organization will collect and track data,
- what cyber and information security measures will be taken.
It was pointed out that there is no need to track a person’s calls in order to determine their location, since a telephone conversation does not imply face-to-face contact.
In response, the Minister of Justice Rustam Badasyan repeatedly promised that the content of the conversations would not be monitored:
“There will be no listening in on phone calls. We will only gather information about the circle of people with which the infected person has spoken, keeping in compliance with the rights of our citizens.”
The commandant, vice-PM Tigran Avinyan explained that the program will only analyze where the infected person has been and who they had contact with over the past two weeks:
“This does not mean that we want to control people, it only means that we want to prevent the spread of the epidemic.”
In order for the new measure to work, residents of the country will need to install a government-approved application on their smartphones. Those who do not have them pose more of a challenge. Other regulation methods that do not involve smartphones are being developed, but it’s still unclear exactly what they are.
The law stipulated that after state of emergency ends all citizens’ data, including personal data, will be destroyed within a month.