Monday, Armenian Town Sealed Off Over Coronavirus Outbreak • Satenik Kaghzvantsian Armenia -- A police checkpoint outside Maralik, . Authorities sealed off a small town and an adjacent village in Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province on Sunday after 18 employees of a local hospital tested positive for coronavirus. Two local residents died from COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the virus, after the Armenian police set up roadblocks around the town of Maralik and the village of Dzorakap in the morning. The head of the provincial administration’s healthcare department, Leyli Aslanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Monday that one of them, a 90-year-old man, was the father of an infected nurse working at the Maralik hospital. Aslanian said that the old man was diagnosed with coronavirus just hours before his death. His family declined offers to hospitalize him even though he had a fever for almost a week, she said. The Maralik hospital was temporarily shut down on Saturday after the 18 coronavirus cases were confirmed among its 61-member staff. Shirak’s governor, Tigran Petrosian, said the infected medical personnel were taken to a hospital in the provincial capital Gyumri while their colleages were placed under quarantine. The authorities also ordered more than 40 relatives and friends of the infected medics to self-isolate, he said. Local officials did not disclose the suspected source of the infections. Another Maralik resident died from coronavirus early this month. The 68-year-old man was reportedly taken to the local medical center before being hospitalized in Gyumri. The latest fatalties brought Armenia’s death toll from COVID-19 to 22. The Armenian Ministry of Health reported on Monday morning that the total number of coronavirus cases in the country rose by 48 to 1,339 in the past day. Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian, who oversees the enforcement of a coronavirus-related state of emergency in Armenia, announced his decision to lock down Maralik and Dzorakap on Saturday evening. Avinian ordered the police to ensure that people can enter or leave the two adjacent communities only in cases of extreme necessity or for the purpose of agricultural work until April 25. The ban also does not cover trucks supplying food, fuel and medicine to the town of 5,000 residents located about 100 kilometers northwest of Yerevan. All roads leading to Maralik were blocked by police checkpoints on Monday. “We only let through people with special permissions,” a policeman manning one of those checkpoints told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. Armenian President Concerned About Hardship Caused By Coronavirus • Harry Tamrazian Armenia -- President Armen Sarkissian meets with children from socially vulnerable families, Gyumri, December 7, 2019. President Armen Sarkissian has said that he feels the pain of scores of poor Armenians who have lost their jobs and other sources of income due to the coronavirus pandemic. In a weekend interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Sarkissian stressed the need to find the right “balance” between easing their hardship through renewed business activity and tackling the deadly virus. “My thoughts are constantly with such families because they lack reserves, so to speak, to get by for one, two or three months [without work,]” he said. “They obviously need assistance and that assistance must come not only from the state. “Of course, the state and business need to cooperate very closely, and I can see that the government is taking some steps in the financial, social and business sectors. To the best of my ability, I certainly give my advice when necessary, but it’s a quite difficult problem.” “It’s not an Armenian problem, it’s a global problem, and it’s hard to find the right balance between public health and public well-being,” added Sarkissian. The Armenian government ordered a nationwide lockdown last month in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus. Since then it has also approved a series of measures designed to cushion the severe economic impact of the lockdown. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian listed those measures in a televised address to the nation aired on Friday. In particular, he touted some 7 billion drams ($14.4 million) in one-off cash handouts planned or already paid by the government to about 100,000 socially vulnerable citizens. They include employees of private firms forced to suspend their operations, microbusiness owners, self-employed and unregistered workers as well as some pregnant women. “The most endangered stratum in our country is those people who had no permanent jobs and were dependent on day labor; those families that have always had very modest incomes,” said Sarkissian. “Just imagine what a difficult time those families … are having now.” The head of state, who has largely ceremonial powers, also said that despite the unfolding economic crisis Armenians should already think about “how we will be living after coronavirus.” “In the case of Armenia, we can, for example start from the simplest thing: public health … Right now air in our city [Yerevan] is two or three times cleaner than it was before coronavirus. So why don’t we think about always having clean air?” he said. Sarkissian suggested in that regard that the municipal authorities plant trees on more than 100 hectares of presently unused land adjacent to the Tsitsernakabert memorial to the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. The public park could have 1.5 million trees matching the estimated number of genocide victims, he said. “I have written to the government, the prime minister and the [Yerevan] mayor proposing that we discuss this issue,” the president said. He added that he will personally start raising private funds for the would-be park if they back the idea. Pashinian Vows ‘Purge’ Of Armenian State Officials Armenia -- Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian speaks during his government's question-and-answer session in parliament, Yerevan, April 15, 2020. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has pledged to purge Armenia’s government, judiciary and security apparatus of “remnants” of the country’s former leadership, accusing them of trying to discredit him and scuttle his far-reaching initiatives. In a video message streamed live on Facebook on Sunday night, Pashinian charged that many Armenian media outlets are also sympathetic to the former regime and keen to undercut him. “It’s probably about time that real purges within the government took place,” he declared before hitting out at former President Serzh Sarkisian and his political allies. “They still have lots of their people in the government and the law-enforcement system,” he said. “They do because we said that there will be no vendettas and gave everyone a chance. But now the time for using that chance is up.” “The state governance system must be cleansed of Serzh’s remnants … Nobody can blame us for doing that because they had that chance and haven’t used it,” added Pashinian. He did not name anyone. The remarks followed a scandal that marred Pashinian’s live address to the nation broadcast on Friday evening by Armenian Public Television. Several other, private TV broadcasters, some of which are controlled by Pashinian’s political foes, were allowed retransmit it. It emerged afterwards for at least 15 minutes preceding the broadcast, Public Television also filmed Pashinian’s preparation for the address which focused on the Armenian government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. The sensitive footage was leaked to some of his detractors who circulated it on social media to mock the prime minister. On Sunday morning, Pashinian’s spokeswoman, Mane Gevorgian, accused Public Television of negligence and a lack of professionalism, saying that it should have alerted the premier that he is being recorded. Gevorgian also lambasted the state-funded broadcaster for giving the other TV channels access to not only the speech but also what preceded it. The Public Television management denied any wrongdoing. It insisted that prior to the broadcast one of its employees informed the prime minister’s aides about the filming. Armenia -- Margarita Grigorian, executive director of Armenian Public Television. Nevertheless, Public Television’s executive director, Margarita Grigorian, resigned on Monday, saying that she takes responsibility for the incident. In a statement, Grigorian also implicitly accused other broadcasters of violating ethical standards of journalism and leaking the footage. She described that as a “stab in the back.” In his late-night Facebook message, Pashinian downplayed the incident while attacking “swaggering scumbags” who he said are taking advantage of his administration’s tolerance of political dissent. He stressed that during the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” in Armenia he prevented their “lynching” by angry crowds that toppled Sarkisian. “People were demanding that … we take the scumbags, who are swaggering now, out of their homes and swat them in the streets,” he said. “But we said no, this is not our work style.” Pashinian went on to allege that Armenia’s former regime is stepping up its smear campaign against him because of what he described as major progress made in ongoing corruption investigations conducted by law-enforcement bodies. He said they are also worried about the Armenian parliament’s passage of government bills on judicial reform and confiscation of assets deemed to have been acquired illegally. The 44-year-old former journalist also blasted the Armenian media, saying that that up until the 2018 revolution “99 percent of media outlets and 70 percent of journalists received money from the [former] authorities.” “They are not getting that money now and the entire media field is furious with that,” he claimed. Reprinted on ANN/Armenian News with permission from RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2020 Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Inc. 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.