Coronavirus scandal: Armenian Ministry of Health apologizes to Georgia for Minister of Health’s words
Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan made the critical statement on May 22.
He expressed doubt about the method used to count the number of coronavirus cases in Georgia while also stating that the anti-epidemic measures taken in Armenia were more effective.
Georgia considered Torosyan’s statements to be incorrect and called for an apology.
By the evening of May 23, the Armenian Ministry of Health “expressed an apology in the name of the Minister for his statement.”
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What the Armenian minister said
The Armenian community on Facebook has already long been asking why Georgia, which reported its first case of coronavirus much earlier, has a lower number of cases than Armenia.
This question reached the minister.
During a meeting of the Public Council of Armenia on May 22, Arsen Torosyan attempted to provide an answer, first praising his Georgian colleagues for the fact that the quarantine there was a lot stricter and more effective. But then he announced that the differing statistics are due to the advantages of the system of epidemic prevention and control in Armenia:
“Our anti-epidemic system is better. I’m not trying to boast, I’m just stating a fact, because we want our neighbors to also have a strong system of epidemic prevention and control.”
On the other hand, Torosyan believes that the difference in statistics may be due to the quantity and quality of testing, as well as the method of collecting data. In particular, the Armenian minister raised the following questions:
- whether Georgia used solely PCR tests, or whether they used rapid tests, which are practically not used in Armenia because of their low accuracy;
- are citizens who have mild respiratory symptoms being tested for coronavirus;
- Are people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and died of pneumonia included in the coronavirus statistics?
“Some things to consider: when we test truck drivers entering Armenia from Georgia, they often test positive for coronavirus. So is it possible that in Georgia there are really only 1-2 cases of coronavirus detected daily, or is it more likely that in fact, not all cases of COVID-19 are diagnosed and included in the statistics?” said Arsen Torosyan.
After this statement, the minister once again emphasized that Armenia has been transparent and precise in presenting its statistics.
But on May 23, the Armenian Ministry of Health gave an official apology to Tbilisi through a diplomatic channel for the words of Arsen Torosyan.
Then the minister’s press secretary Alina Nikogosyan also made a statement on the issue:
“We regret the fact that the minister’s words gave rise to a misunderstanding and political speculation. We value our close collaboration with our Georgian colleagues in overcoming the epidemic very highly. Our mutual relationship is in the spirit of cooperation, and there is no need to inject artificial notes of competition into it. In this vein, we will continue to develop our relationship…
All countries are following their own strategies and methods in the fight against coronavirus, which are being introduced on the national level, and the main goal of which is to solve all problems that arise in the most effective way possible, taking into consideration the specifics of each country’s situation. We wish our Georgian colleagues success in the fight against the pandemic.”
Reactions from Georgia
Arsen Torosyan’s statement saying that Georgia’s methods for collecting coronavirus data are ineffective and that there is not enough testing being done did not go unnoticed in Tbilisi.
David Zalkaliani, head of the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had this to say about the Armenian minister’s statement:
“We immediately responded through diplomatic channels. To put it lightly, the statement from the high-ranking official was improper in the framework of two friendly neighboring countries.”
The Georgian side states that they have already received an apology from Yerevan:
“Our embassy in Armenia reported that the Department of International Relations called them on behalf of the Ministry of Health and expressed regret for the fact that the minister’s words were misinterpreted and offended their Georgian colleagues.”
Chief Epidemiologist of Georgia, Director of the National Center for Disease Control Amiran Gamkrelidze also commented on the minister’s statement:
“It was very surprising to hear such a statement, considering the fact that Georgia and Armenia are two very close neighboring countries.”
Gamkrelidze says that if there really were cases where Georgian drivers entering Armenia tested positive for coronavirus, then the Armenian side should have reported it to the Georgian Ministry of Health, in accordance with the WHO convention, of which both Armenia and Georgia are part.
Gamkrelidze says that when similar situations happened in Georgia, the Georgian government reported it to the countries from which the infected person had traveled.
Gamkrelidze also refuted the Armenian minister’s statement about the mortality rate in Georgia, and about the fact that he said Georgian doctors used rapid-result tests instead of the more reliable PCR tests.
“I don’t know where he’s getting this information from. We publish all of our data and statistics openly, and they’re even available in English,” said Gamkrelidze.
The general director of the Infectious Diseases, AIDS and Clinical Immunology Research Center Tengiz Tsertsvadze also said that the statement made by the Armenian minister was incorrect. He believes that Torosyan should provide documents as evidence for his statement or apologize.
“I don’t think that Arsen Torosyan should have to be taught by us that a high-ranking person should not make such statements, moreover, with no basis in fact. We have a very high standard for detecting COVID-19 in Georgia, as many international institutes and experts have confirmed. Given the catastrophic epidemiological situation in Armenia, the minister’s statement that the Armenian epidemiological response system is superior to the Georgian one is laughable. We invite Arsen Torosyan and all interested parties to share their experience,” said Tengiz Tsertsvadze.
Georgian politicians also had their two cents to say about the coronavirus. For example, Giorgi Kanashvili, representative of the Lelo political movement, believes that given the current crisis, the Georgian authorities should offer assistance to Armenia, which is currently facing the most difficulties of all the countries in the region.
“I know that it’s hard for us as well. But despite this, it would be good to offer some help. These situations rarely arise, and our actions take on particular meaning. It may just be a symbolic gesture, but symbolic gestures play a huge role.
National historical memory is by and large nothing more than a collection of such gestures. Therefore, I hope that the Georgian authorities will respond accordingly,” writes Kanashvili on his Facebook page.
He believes that the words of the Armenian minister do not deserve any special attention:
“People come and go, but our countries will live side by side for many centuries.”