BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
I’ve wanted to wrap my head around how the Republic of Armenia (RoA) is doing in the COVID pandemic context, but it has been a bit difficult. There’s a dearth of news on this front, but I hope this attempt at putting some pieces together is helpful for communities.
The first confirmed case of in the RoA was identified on March 1 in a person returning from Iran. You might recall that the country had closed its border with Iran prior to that, a wise step. The country’s “lockdown” was declared on March 24.
Let’s go with the good news first. On April 7, a Russian mobile lab with the capacity to run 100 tests per day was deployed to the RoA with a focus on military personnel, though not exclusively. On April 21 an art contest was announced with a $2000 prize going to the best portrayal of “self-quarantine” in a single picture. We learned on April 22 that the U.S. would adjust the allocation of its RoA aid to help Yerevan deal with the pandemic. April 24 witnessed a virtual pilgrimage to Dzedzernagapert with 653,797 participating. A May 1 report placed the country’s testing capacity at 1000 per day and the next day, an Armenian company announced it had developed a thermal detector that could check people’s temperature as they walked by. That’s an important tool for identifying people with a fever who can then be tested for the virus. On the other hand, this does raise some privacy issues, but, we are in an emergency situation.
Now, on to the hard and less pleasant reality. Judging by some postings on Facebook by friends living in our homeland and the government’s actions, my sense is that the threat is not being taken seriously enough. The first indication of this was the initial one-week lockdown which made no sense when it was already known that the relevant period of concern was two weeks!
Despite essentially steady new-infection rates (see the top line in the accompanying graph) rather than declining, the lockdown has been lifted (early May) in the country although the “state of emergency” declaration is still in effect. Throughout, people didn’t seem to take the required cautions seriously enough, though a visible decrease in traffic and people on the streets were reported.
The prime minister has called for people to take personal responsibility for wearing masks, social distancing, and following the precautionary guidance that has been publicized over the course of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this won’t work. People are receiving too many, and mixed, signals (and not just in Armenia). What does it mean to lift restrictions but not the state of emergency? Why the lifting when cases are not DECREASING which would indicate that the transmission of the virus is being interrupted?
Let’s face it, the solution is simple. Implementing the solution is very difficult. People worldwide are politicizing biology, from unfounded pronouncements of “unconstitutionality” of the closures/lockdowns in the U.S. to opposing political factions blaming one another for ineffective responses to the pandemic all over the world.
Despite this, some countries seem to have gotten it right, proving the invalidity of an argument made by a friend that since so many countries have gotten it wrong, that’s the norm, that’s what is to be reasonably expected.
The simple solution is to hit the virus where it counts – don’t give it new homes in the form of newly infected humans. How? Utterly minimize contact among humans for the two-week period we know is the infectious period of someone who has caught the bug. Once this happens, everyone will still have to maintain some cautions – masks, distancing, hand-washing, etc. just the really basic stuff – until a vaccine and or treatments for the effects f the virus are broadly available. No amount of caution will be perfect, people will slip into old habits and some transmission will still occur.
Everyone, Armenians included, must stop second guessing medical experts and thinking they know better and just hunker down to stop the spread. Otherwise, we’ll be killing off far too many of our loved ones. As I told group of Armenians (about a dozen) gathered at their usual hangout in front of a (now closed) Starbucks maskless, with no distancing, and smoking like chimneys – let’s avoid a self-inflicted second genocide!