YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Schools and kindergartens across Armenia will reopen on Monday after a one-month stoppage which health authorities say has helped to contain the spread of swine flu in the country.
The Armenian government closed them on December 7, citing an upsurge in “seasonal” infectious diseases such as influenza. The measure was widely attributed to rapidly growing cases of the H1N1 virus reported by the Ministry of Health and medical services subordinated to it.
Ara Asoyan, Armenia’s chief epidemiologist, told RFE/RL that classes in schools and kindergartens can now resume because the H1N1 epidemic is now on a downward trend. “I just want to again appeal to parents and teachers,” he said. “If they notice that a child has flu symptoms, they must not let them go to school or kindergarten. If everyone heeds this appeal, we will keep up this reduction and won’t have a second wave of the flu.”
The health authorities have so far registered 111 cases of swine flu resulting in at least three fatalities. Asoyan, who also runs Yerevan’s Nork hospital specializing in infectious diseases, acknowledged that the real figure is much higher. But he insisted that the spread of the potentially deadly virus has slowed dramatically in recent weeks.
“We definitely had thousands of infected people in November and December,” he said. “But whereas 25 to 30 people infected with flu were admitted into our hospital each day then, now the number stands at one to three,” he said.
“We are now at the stage of [disease] decline, and if we continue to live correctly I am sure that we will not have a second wave of the flu,” added Asoyan.
Lilya Poghosian, a senior doctor at the national ambulance service, gave similar assurances. Speaking to RFE/RL, Poghosian said the number of daily ambulance calls for persons with serious respiratory problems, which can be caused by swine flu, has shrunk by half this month. At roughly 30 calls a day, it is virtually unchanged from the same period of last year, she said.
According to Asoyan, the reported decline in swine flu cases is all the more important in view of the fact that it coincided with New Year and Christmas celebrations in the country that traditionally see increased contacts among people and therefore increase the risk of disease transmission. “I have the impression that our people have become more vigilant,” said the official.