Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Armenia Moves Out of Lockdown

Country goes back to work, even though infections continue to rise.
By Mania Israyelyan
  • Anahit Voskanyan, a doctor and the deputy director of the Sirmed medical centre. (Photo courtesy of A Voskanyan)
    Anahit Voskanyan, a doctor and the deputy director of the Sirmed medical centre. (Photo courtesy of A Voskanyan)

Armenia’s government is easing restrictions after nearly two months of lockdown with a series of measures that officials say balances protecting public health with preventing economic collapse.

Although the infection curve has not yet flattened, deputy minister of economy Varos Simonyan announced at a May 1 press conference that most measures would be lifted in an effort to reanimate the economy.

The ministry of health also implemented mandatory industry-specific health and safety guidelines. Bars, coffee shops and restaurants will be allowed to reopen but can only have outdoor seating, while hairdressers can receive customers if they come one at a time and by appointment.

Supermarkets have already marked spaces for customers to stand on with cashiers separated by glass dividers, and all employees must wear face masks and gloves and regularly disinfect surfaces. Those working in factories will have their temperature taken several times throughout the day.

In a live open air meeting with deputy prime minister Tigran Avinyan and minister of health Arsen Torosyan on May 3, prime minister Nikol Pashinyan said this heralded a new phase in the fight against the virus.

“Our task is to provide coexistence conditions for living with the coronavirus,” he said, adding that he expected to see cases of the illness until next spring when he predicted a vaccine would be ready.

“It is impossible to live in a lockdown for a year,” he stressed.

Avinyan, who heads the country’s Covid-19 task force, said that almost all branches of the economy would go back to work, although public transport, one of the riskiest areas for transmission of the virus, would remain suspended. Educational institutions would continue operating through online platforms.

Avinyan told IWPR that the new phase was “an attempt to adapt to the new rules of coexistence - and individual, social and corporate responsibility of each of us is crucial”.

He added that the task force was working on a new system together with the health ministry to monitor ongoing measures such as social distancing.

“There will be detection and other tools to make civilians strictly stick to [these] rules,” he said.

The moves are being implemented even though the number of cases of coronavirus is approaching 3,400, with a record number of 145 new cases in one day recorded on May 8. As of May 11, 3,392 infections have been registered in the country; 1,359 people have recovered and 46 have died.

But in Armenia, as elsewhere around the world, concerns are growing that the harsh economic effect of the virus may turn out to more devastating than its impact on health.  

“The economic risks and losses are irrevocable and the state has to balance people’s social welfare and their health on the scales,” said Anna Pakhlyan, associate professor at the State Economic University of Armenia, adding that even in lockdown the state had no guarantee that the virus would be contained.

As part of the country’s emergency response package, around 57 billion AMD (118 million US dollars) was allocated to around 23,000 businesses and 825,000 individuals. The next round of aid will see 150 billion AMD (318 million dollars) distributed to 1.2 million people.

Pakhlyan said that food provision would be Armenia’s primary short-term problem as many countries have halted exports.

“For example Russia, unable to predict future developments, has stopped wheat exports as the degree of uncertainty is very high,” she continued. “This means at a certain point the domestic resources will come to an end.”

Looking further ahead, Pakhlyan said that there were reasons for optimism.

“In the spring the Armenian market will be flooded with cheaper Iranian and Turkish vegetables pushing Armenian products out of competition. This is a chance to enhance our competitive privileges. Our small economy is a privilege in this case. The more the foreign connections of a country, the bigger the losses,” Pakhlyan concluded.

Anahit Voskanyan, a doctor and the deputy director of the Sirmed medical centre, said that lifting some restrictions were justified, noting that the effects of isolation also had very real health implications.

“Whether in or out of lockdown, the factor of individual responsibility is huge,” she continued, noting that self-discipline, combined with well-calibrated public health interventions, were the most effective ways to protect citizens.

“This two-month period enabled the health care system to get ready for a larger threat,” Voskanyan said. “And even if a second wave breaks out, we will be able to fight it.”

This publication was prepared under the "Giving Voice, Driving Change - from the Borderland to the Steppes Project" implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.