During a press conference, Health Minister Arsen Torosyan said that the Ministry has decided to summarize some of the key actions of its fight against coronavirus in the past several months and present it to the public. Torosyan stressed that while most of the actions presented in the report are ongoing, the Government prioritizes public accountability and transparency of its actions. Torosyan noted that 1,273 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours and 349 came back positive. He went on to clarify that the low number of tests explains the low number of confirmed cases. In the past few weeks, Armenia usually registered a low number of confirmed cases on Mondays but the numbers started increasing during the week. The bed capacity allocated to COVID-19 patients remains mostly occupied but new medical centers will soon be included in the process.
While answering reporters’ questions, Torosyan noted that it is still uncertain whether a person can again get infected with COVID-19 after battling the virus once. To date, Armenia hasn’t registered such cases. But even though the world still does not have an answer to this question, we need to be cautious and remember that because someone has recovered from the virus is still not a guarantee that they won’t get infected again. The experience with seasonal acute respiratory infections has shown that they do not result in the built up of long-term immunity.
Speaking about medication and a vaccine for COVID-19, the Minister said that they are in negotiations with a number of companies and will receive sufficient quantities of medication like Afivafir and Remdesivir. There is a consensus among public health experts that we will have a vaccine, which is a good indicator, because before this consensus was reached the world was faced with uncertainties, Torosyan explained. Over 200 vaccines are currently being developed around the world and about twenty have great chances of being the final product (the one produced by Moderna company is among these twenty). Although the Government is in negotiations with several companies, these negotiations are still in their preliminary stages and some countries have already started purchasing large quantities of potential vaccines. This means that countries which are not involved in this competition will be later challenged to acquire vaccines for its populations. Besides being in negotiations with specific companies, Armenia is also working with UNICEF, the World Health Organization which can purchase large quantities of a vaccine for a hundred countries and distribute them by maintaining principles of fairness and equality. And it is important to remember that the vaccine is the only solution that will help the world to get back to a normal way of living. Torosyan also noted that developing a vaccine is a tedious process, involving multiple stages of clinical trials and a number of factors are considered when selecting the final product. Some of those key factors are whether the vaccine creates antibodies in human organisms, its side effects and to what extent it addresses the epidemic situation.
Regarding Armenia’s testing capacity, Torosyan noted that they continue to believe that increasing the testing capacity is of critical importance and the healthcare sector is conducting maximum 2,500 tests daily. This number is expected to increase in the upcoming few weeks - up to 4,000 tests daily. When the outbreak just started spreading Armenia was equipped to conduct only between 200 to 300 tests daily and the fact that the healthcare sector is currently equipped to conduct 2,500 tests is huge progress. And conducting PCR tests is a very complicated process, which makes increasing laboratory capacities to conduct such tests challenging. Soon PCR tests will be conducted in four more laboratories, in St. Grigor Lusavorich and Arabkir Medical Centers as well as in Ijevan and Martuni.
Torosyan also explained that conducting a PCR test is logistically a complicated process. He reminded that at some point Armenia did not have sufficient quantities of sticks to conduct testing, because of a global shortage. Problems like this one may seem insignificant but they do complicate the process, he said noting that until now Armenia acquired 80,000 PCR tests, 100,000 are currently being produced in-country and another 60,000 were donated. Thus, Armenia never experienced a shortage of the actual PCR test. Torosyan also clarified the circumstances under which a potentially infected COVID-19 patient is tested. He noted that a patient is confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 and their family members exhibit similar symptoms and are being treated at home, they are not being tested. The situation is different when a patient needs to be hospitalized because placing a potentially infected patient (without testing) with already infected people can be a legal issue. Speaking about the price of treatment for one patient, Torosyan noted that the Ministry transfers approximately 1 million AMD for the treatment of one patient in ICU.
The Minister stressed that there is a need to extend the State of Emergency (SOE), but that the Government understands that it cannot keep extending it and now is trying to come up with a legal solution that will still require people to follow the anti-epidemic rules. Torosyan mentioned that the effectiveness of the Government’s response to the pandemic has evolved over time but that it will always need to be improved. He went on to say that gradual improvement is the Government’s path to success. Public oversight and citizens’ compliance with the anti-epidemic rules will play a critical role in this process.
Speaking about the reasons for the large number of confirmed cases that were registered among ethnic minorities, Yazidis in particular, Torosyan noted their cultural peculiarities (organizing and participating in large gatherings, visiting their neighbours/relatives). The Minister, however, stressed that infection did not disproportionately affect ethnic minorities in Armenia. He once again urged citizens to follow the anti-epidemic rules and resume a normal way of living only after the pandemic is over. Torosyan also reaffirmed his earlier call to citizens to wear medical face masks instead of reusable cloth face masks, because the former are significantly more protective.
The Ministry of Health of Artsakh reported one new case of COVID-19 and two recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 136, of which 25 are active cases and 111 have already recovered. The Ministry also reported a new infection hub in Stepanakert. To date, 2,350 tests have been conducted and 82 people are in isolation. One of the patients, who has chronic diseases and pneumonia, remains in critical condition. Another three patients are in critical, but stable condition.
The Ministry of Health reported 349 new cases of COVID-19 and 605 recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 29,285 of which 11,711 are active cases and 16,907 have already recovered. Twelve COVID-19 patients (the youngest aged 54 and the oldest 85), who all had pre-existing health conditions, died bringing the total number of deaths to 503. Five other patients with COVID-19 also died, but the virus was not the cause of death; 164 such cases have been reported. To date, 125,088 tests have been conducted, of which 1,273 were in the last 24 hours.