YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Hundreds of people, most of them children, have been hospitalized in Armenia following an outbreak of influenza that has forced the Armenian government to extend school holidays.
Hospitals across the country have struggled over the past week to cope with a continuing inflow of patients suffering from flu, pneumonia and other acute respiratory diseases. More than 560 people received urgent treatment there as of Friday. The vast majority of them were young children.
The Arabkir Medical Center, a children’s hospital in Yerevan, was packed with infected children, unable to receive more patients. “I came here with my children on January 2,” a young woman said at the hospital. “They both were in a severe condition. One of them was discharged yesterday.”
“We were hospitalized with usual flu symptoms: runny nose, fever, weakness, coughing. But it emerged later that it’s pneumonia,” said another mother.
The Armenian Ministry of Health has sought to downplay the mass hospitalizations, saying that the situation is under control and that hospitals across the country have sufficient medication to deal with the seasonal viruses. Still, it asked the government on Thursday to extend New Year’s and Christmas holidays in the schools by one week, until January 18. The ministry cited the need to “avoid complications” and “prevent a further spread of infections.”
Education Minister Armen Ashotian was quick to issue a corresponding order to school administrations.
In a related development, the Yerevan Mayor’s Office announced that the city’s policlinics providing primary healthcare will operate in a “special regime” on Saturday and Sunday. The policlinics are normally closed on weekends.
The situation was further aggravated by an outbreak late last month of H1N1, a potentially deadly virus also known as swine flu. It led Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday with Health Minister Armen Muradian and other senior officials.