Health Minister Warns COVID-19 Surge May Collapse System

Armenia's Health Minister Arsen Torosyan
Armenia's Health Minister Arsen Torosyan

Armenia’s Health Minister Arsen Torosyan

YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—The daily number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Armenia continued to rise on Thursday, with Health Minister Arsen Torosyan warning that Armenian hospitals may soon be unable to admit all infected people in need of urgent treatment.

The Ministry of Health said in the morning that 697 people tested positive for coronavirus in the past day, which raised to 11,221 the total number of cases registered in the country of about 3 million.

The ministry also reported 6 new coronavirus deaths. The official death toll from the COVID-19 epidemic thus reached 176.

The figure does not include the deaths of 68 other citizens also infected with the virus. The ministry claims that they died from other, pre-existing diseases. It recorded 9 such fatalities on Wednesday.

Due to the accelerating spread of the virus the health authorities stopped late last month hospitalizing or isolating individuals showing mild symptoms of the disease or none at all.

“Only about 15-20 percent of the registered cases need hospitalization, while the rest stay at home under the surveillance of primary healthcare bodies,” Torosyan told a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.

“On a daily basis, almost manually, so to speak, we accommodate patients on the existing hospital beds,” he said. “It is very important that we register a substantial decrease in [infection] numbers so that we can keep up … this process.”

“Or else, it will be very difficult to ensure all that,” he added.

Torosyan earlier warned of an impending shortage of beds at the intensive care units of hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. He said on Monday that dozens of more such hospital beds will be made available in the coming days and weeks.

According to the health minister, 450 patients are in a serious or critical condition at the moment.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated earlier in the day that “there are already people in need of hospitalization whom we cannot hospitalize on time.” “Our healthcare system is already bending downwards,” he said in a video message livestreamed on Facebook.

During the ensuing cabinet meeting, Pashinian again complained about Armenians’ “widespread” noncompliance with safety rules. He singled out people’s failure to observe social distancing when lining up outside commercial bank or post offices.

Central Bank Governor Artur Javadyan and Minister of High-Tech Industry Hakob Arshakyan assured Pashinyan that their respective agencies are taking effective measures to get customers to stand away from each other outside those offices.

Torosyan seemed more worried about COVID-19 infections reported among workers of manufacturing enterprises. He said they are fraught with “big outbreaks” of the disease in various parts of the country.

Armenia’s largest textile factory located in the northern city of Vanadzor was forced to close for three days on Wednesday after at least 39 of its 2,600 employees tested positive for the virus.

The worsening coronavirus crisis is fuelling growing calls for the Armenian government to re-impose a nationwide lockdown. Pashinyan admitted earlier this week that the health authorities are also favoring such a drastic move. But he gave no indications on Thursday that it is imminent.

Instead, the prime minister again urged Armenians to wear face masks, practice social distancing and frequently wash their hands. He reiterated that the success of his government’s fight against the epidemic primarily depends on their responsible behavior.

On Wednesday, the government decided to make it mandatory for every citizen to wear a face mask or a cloth covering their mouth and nose not only in enclosed spaces but also in the streets and all other public areas.

Critics of the government are skeptical about the effectiveness of this strategy of containing the virus. They say that only a renewed lockdown can make a difference.

The government had already issued stay-at-home orders, banned public transport and shut down most businesses in late March. But it began gradually easing those restrictions already in mid-April.

The daily number of new coronavirus cases recorded by the Ministry of Health has skyrocketed since then. Critics say that the authorities never properly enforced the lockdown and lifted it too soon.

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