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State of Exception Extended; Armenia Continues Fierce Battle Against COVID-19

In a special Parliamentary hearing on extending the state of exception on June 12, Prime Minister Pashinyan said that Armenia has reached a crisis situation. “According to various projections, the pandemic can last for 5 years. There are many uncertainties, much work is done towards discovering a vaccine, which can theoretically happen in the coming three months or three years. We have to prepare for the worst scenario. Despite the Government’s efforts, if the anti-epidemiological rules are not maintained, it will be impossible to overcome the new coronavirus.”

The government proposed extending the state of exception for the third time, until July 13. The reasons for which the state of exception was declared, are not gone yet, unfortunately coronavirus continues to spread.

The logic of fighting the pandemic is the same, according to Pashinyan, and the issue is not so much a health issue as it is a behavioral one. The solution is in our minds, he said. People should continue wearing masks, disinfecting hands and keeping a physical distance.

In the meanwhile, the government continues to ramp up health care capacities. Around 1800 COVID-19-positive patients receive hospital care of which 425 undergo intensive care, with 100 remaining in an extremely critical condition. “While we continue expanding the ordinary hospital beds, as well as intensive care ones, including allowing oxygenation, we live in a crisis situation now,” said Pashinyan. 

The increase in the number of new cases is an indicator of how well we maintained the anti-epidemiological rules. “Our strategy has to be to live with the coronavirus. The humanity has throughout its existence faced such situations due to which it had to adapt its behavior,” said Pashinyan, at the same time, a lockdown cannot be viewed as a solution at the moment, he added. He believes that the government’s failure has been its inability to enforce people to wear masks, keep distance and disinfect hands, also its inability to show the line between panic and neglect of danger. “The real problem is in our backyards, in our houses,” said Pashinyan.

In the past days, the rate of infection spread remains one of the highest, over 700 cases on June 13, and over 600 new cases on June 12. 

Health Minister Arsen Torosyan confirmed that the number of beds is at full capacity, however managing the flow of patients with only patients with mild symptoms on a waiting list to be hospitalized. Over 500 patients are in a critical condition, of which 100 in an extremely critical one. Minister Torosyan informed that the survival rate of those in an extremely critical condition, including intubated to ventilators is around 10-30%. 

“In terms of IC beds, we still have vacant beds, but just this fact is not a positive sign, due to the mortality rate of those in a critical condition. Therefore our utmost goal is to reach a drop of infection cases and not increase of health care capacities,” said Torosyan. 

“Our actions must be aimed at containing the rate of the infection which will be possible through a collective behavior.” Torosyan also said that much depends on how well and correctly masks are worn, which entails wearing a medical triple-layer mask which highly increases the probability of protecting from infection.

“Too many uncertainties remain, however, including questions related to people without symptoms. There is no straightforward answer to whether asymptomatic people are infectious or not, also whether secretions are the only way of transmission or exhaled air is also infectious and therefore whether 1 meter is a safe distance not to be infected.”

As is expected in most of the world, in autumn, respiratory infectious diseases spike and it is projected that the COVID-19 infection will spike in Armenia too. The Minister mentioned that the health care system is preparing for the spike in the fall too, although even now it is at full capacity. 

To questions related to slow or inadequate response from outpatient primary health care clinics, Torosyan clarified that primary health institutions fell under a huge burden immediately, this tier of the health system received more adequate attention from the state only during the past 2 years, therefore it must have been quite difficult for them. However they have been provided assistance and guidance from the Ministry and local governance bodies should assist them too. 

He also clarified why a number of privatized hospitals, including “Nairi” will not be designated to treating COVID-19, as was decided by health care experts and officials. “There are principles, one of them is to keep certain health centers away from the coronavirus in order for them to serve to the other health needs of the population. “Nairi” will not serve COVID-19 patients and that’s the right decision, he said.

In the meanwhile, international groups of medics are designated to arrive to Armenia to help the stretching health system. 10 doctors will arrive from France on June 13, a group will be sent by Lithuania’s government, around 50 doctors have expressed to come and volunteer from Russia, they will most likely arrive and work for a few weeks. Other emergency medic team assistance is also expected through the facilitation of the World Health Organization.