Friday, Armenian Health Minister In Fresh Warning On Coronavirus Cases • Susan Badalian Armenia -- Health Minister Arsen Torosian (R) visits the intensive care unit of Surp Grigor Lusavorich hospital, Yerevan, May 10, 2020. Armenian hospitals are increasingly struggling to cope with growing coronavirus cases and may soon be unable to give life-saving treatment to all infected people hospitalized in serious condition, Health Minister Arsen Torosian said on Friday. Amid the continuing rapid spread of the virus in Armenia, Torosian again warned of a possible shortage of intensive care beds at the hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. He said that at least 150 of just over 200 such beds currently available in the country are already occupied by patients. “All of the 50 [vacant] beds might be occupied as early as today, whereas [occupied beds] will be freed up very slowly because citizens kept in our intensive care units … usually stay there for around 20 days,” he said during a video conference with members of Armenia’s Public Council. Accordingly, Torosian acknowledged that doctors dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic may soon have to switch to a “deep sorting” of patients that show severe symptoms of the disease. “The deep sorting is also done during wars, with mainly those patients who have a chance to survive admitted for treatment,” he said. “It’s possible that at this rate [of coronavirus infections] we will opt for that in the coming days. But we are doing everything to avoid that, for example, by deploying new beds.” The minister’s latest stark warning came as the health authorities stopped hospitalizing or isolating infected people showing mild symptoms of the virus or none at all. Such individuals, who account for more than 70 percent of all cases, will now have to self-isolate at home. Asymptomatic patients currently kept in hospitals or hotels turned into temporary medical care centers will also be sent home. Torosian defended this measure, saying that the authorities simply have no other choice. “There is no more room [for asymptomatic cases,]” he said. “That is why we are sending people home.” Armenia -- A COVID-19 patient is brought to the Surp Grigor Lusavorich hospital in Yerevan, April 8, 2020. The Armenian Ministry of Health reported in the morning that 322 new infections and 4 more deaths were registered in the past 24 hours. The total number of COVID-19 cases thus reached 5,928 while the official death toll from the disease rose to 74. The latter figure does not include the deaths of 28 other people infected with the virus. The ministry claims that those fatalities were primarily caused by other, pre-existing diseases. Torosian warned on Thursday that the number of people dying from coronavirus could rise sharply if the highly infectious disease continues to spread rapidly. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian likewise said that the “situation is not good.” Still, Pashinian made clear that the Armenian government will stick to its “decentralized” strategy of fighting against the virus which puts the emphasis on citizens’ “individual responsibility.” As part of a nationwide lockdown imposed in late March, the government seriously restricted people’s movements and ordered the closure of most nonessential businesses. But it began relaxing these restrictions already in mid-April. The daily numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country have steadily increased since then. Critics say that the authorities never properly enforced the lockdown and lifted it too soon. “If there is a two-week total lockdown, not the one which we had [earlier this spring,] then I can practically guarantee that we can completely stop outbreaks,” Torosian declared on Friday. But he stopped short of publicly urging the government to impose such a lockdown. Karabakh Inauguration Party Raises Eyebrows In Armenia • Robert Zargarian Nagorno-Karabakh -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and other dignitaries attend a state banquet in Shushi, . Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and key members of his administration caused an uproar in Armenia after clearly failing to observe social distancing during a state banquet in Nagorno-Karabakh on Thursday. The open-air dinner party was held in the town of Shushi following the inauguration of Ara Harutiunian, Karabakh’s recently elected new president. Official photographs of the event showed Pashinian, Armenian parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan, their wives and dozens of other dignitaries standing tightly around tables loaded with various dishes and snacks. None of the guests wore gloves, let alone masks. The photos were widely circulated on social media, prompting criticism from not only opponents but also some supporters of the Armenian government. Some critics accused Pashinian of recklessness and hypocrisy. The prime minister attended the inauguration events in Karabakh just hours after expressing serious concern over the continuing rapid spread of coronavirus in Armenia. “The situation is much more serious than we can imagine,” he warned at a cabinet meeting in Yerevan. Pashinian again complained that many Armenians are still not complying with social distancing and hygiene rules set by the health authorities. He ordered the Armenian police to enforce those rules “more strictly.” Responding to the uproar, Pashinian’s spokeswoman, Mane Gevorgian, insisted that the premier and his entourage took all necessary precautions against the virus during their latest trip to Karabakh. “The banquet followed the inauguration ceremony of Artsakh’s new president during which the prime minister, his wife, government members and deputies of the National Assembly wore masks,” Gevorgian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Friday. “Many of them also wore gloves.” Deputy parliament speaker Alen Simonian argued, for his part, that the COVID-19 infection rate in Karabakh is much lower than in Armenia. “Fortunately, Karabakh does not have the kind of strict restrictions that are in place in Armenia,” he said. Simonian seemed to acknowledge at the same time that the organizers and participants of the inauguration party should have been more careful. “We all must draw conclusions and learn from our mistakes and shortcomings,” he said. Authorities in Karabakh have reported 33 coronavirus cases and no deaths resulting from them so far. The Armenian-populated territory, which had broken away from Azerbaijan in 1991, has around 150,000 residents. In Armenia, the Ministry of Health reported on Friday 322 new infections and 4 more deaths. The total number of COVID-19 cases thus reached 5,928. More Armenians Evacuated From Turkey Georgia -- Buses carrying Armenians returning to Armenia from Turkey, May 22, 2020. Armenia evacuated on Friday 168 more Armenian citizens from coronavirus-hit Turkey in coordination with Turkish and Georgian authorities. They reportedly boarded four Armenian buses after being bused from Istanbul to the Turkish-Georgian border late at night. They then proceeded to Armenia via Georgia. Armenia’s government paid for the bus service and covered other expenses incurred during the evacuation. The Armenian Embassy in Tbilisi said it provided the evacuees with food and other essential items during their transit through Georgia which was allowed by the Georgian government. All evacuees were due to be told to self-isolate for two weeks on their arrival in Armenia. More than 70 other Armenians were evacuated from Turkey in early April. The Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries arranged their return during a rare direct contact. Armenia and Turkey do not have diplomatic relations. Successive Turkish governments have also kept the border between the two neighboring states closed because of the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Officials in Yerevan say that more than 60,000 Armenian nationals, most of them migrant workers who lived in Russia and Europe, have returned to their country since March 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic consequences. According to the Armenian Embassy in Moscow, at least 5,000 Armenians currently stuck in Russia also want to return home but are unable to do so because of the coronavirus-related absence of regular flights between the two countries. Since the beginning of April the embassy has helped to organize a dozen charter flights to Yerevan from Moscow and other Russian cities to evacuate a smaller number of other citizens. 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.