Policy responses for Armenia - HSRM


Policy responses for Armenia

1.2 Physical distancing

These transition measures are considered a test – if the epidemiological situation remains stable, more restrictions can be lifted, otherwise stricter restrictions will have to be reimplemented. Ensuring individuals and businesses comply with the strict hygiene and physical distancing measures has been challenging. On 22 June, 172 businesses were shut down for non-compliance with safety rules: 164 of those for 24 hours and 8 for 72 hours. The PM has said the key indicator of whether a return to lockdown is required is intensive care capacity, but before a complete lockdown, there might be other restrictions. On 6 July, the Minister of Health urged all those who are at risk to refrain from coming together in their courtyards, playing card games, to think of their health and added that the statistics are very clear - the healthcare system is not always able to save their lives. He asked them to minimize their
contacts to only essential ones.

The State of Emergency is still in place until 11 September 2020, but from 4 May, movement restrictions have been lifted and all citizens can move freely around Armenia without permits. Public transport reopened from 18 May Public transport reopened from 18 May. Most businesses were also allowed to reopen, albeit with restrictions to minimise transmission - enterprises have special guidance and requirements that they must strictly follow. All guidance is specific to the branch of economy and designated bodies will monitor compliance with all the requirements, which will be posted on the government’s website. Restaurants, cafes and bars that have open-air areas could reopen, but no service could be provided inside – from 18 May service indoors has resumed. Sport and exercise facilities are open, initially only to professional athletes, but from 18 May to everyone. Zoos, botanical gardens, beauty salons, barbershops, dry cleaning companies are also allowed to reopen on 4 May, all outdoor historical and cultural sites from 18 May. Individual shops could open from 4 May, but shopping centres / malls remained closed until 18 May, from when all could reopen. All restrictions on manufacturing industry were lifted from 4 May. Any businesses, restaurants, companies, banks and beauty parlours that do not follow safety measures will be immediately shut down first for 24 hours, if the violations continue the shut down period will be longer - 2 weeks or a month.

The government decided to close the Victory Park and Komitas Pantheon to the public for the 8-9 May holiday to mark the end of WW2. To prevent crowding in the Yerablur Military Pantheon, police shifts were established and only small group visits were allowed. There has been lack of compliance of the public with social distancing measures, with fatigue observed among the population. The Ministry of Health urged citizens to refrain from celebrating the traditional Vardavar water festival on 19 July, to avoid participating in events that involve crowds.
Everyone is required to wear a face mask in all public open spaces, with the exception of children under the age of six. People with diseases such as asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis and others are also exempted from wearing masks in open public places, but only if they have the appropriate medical certificate. Wearing a face mask is not required while exercising or cycling. Those not wearing a mask (wearing it wrong) face a 10,000 AMD (21 USD) fine. If there is more than one person in a taxi or a car, i.e. passengers, then everyone must wear masks or face a fine. This even applies to family members who live together. From 25 May all people were obliged to carry masks when walking outside the home or face a 10,000 AMD fine. People must wear masks and gloves on entering shops, banks and other offices, which should refuse entry to any unprotected customers. However, these rules are widely flouted. Public transport services in Yerevan and other major urban communities resumed on 18 May. The latest government rules require commuters to wear face masks and gloves and disinfect their hands with sanitizers to be placed inside all buses, minibuses and even taxis. They also limit the number of people who will be allowed to travel together. Masks manufactured in Armenia are now being sold in packs of two in trade machines in the Metro, each mask costing 100 AMD. The masks will soon be for sale in other public places as well. On 6 July the Prime Minister ordered mask distribution stations to be set up across Yerevan.

From 15 August, mask-wearing restrictions were relaxed a little so that they were no longer mandatory in wide open countryside, although it is still mandatory to wear a mask while visiting historical and cultural sites, on pilgrimages, during individual and group tours, excursions, hikes, trips, etc. organized by a company. Masks are also mandatory in indoor areas, except for i) children aged 0-5, ii) cases when the person is in their own house or car; iii) cases when the person is smoking, drinking or eating; iv) other cases described in the guidelines.

From 20 May kindergartens and preschools will reopen, but attendance is voluntary. All those who start taking their children to kindergartens will need to follow safety rules and regulations - parents cannot enter the premises, they should wait in the designated area in front of the kindergarten. While in the kindergarten, children will be in groups of eight to ten and their temperature will be measured several times during the day. To further ensure the safety of children, employees who are in a high-risk group (20% of the workforce), will be on paid leave. All kindergartens will be disinfected on a daily basis. Also, all the kindergarten employees will be provided with face masks and hand sanitizers. All those not complying with the set rules will have their employment terminated. From 22 June, provision of Kindergarten education has been consolidated to only one or two public kindergartens in each administrative district of Yerevan. In August the rules for kindergartens were updated to include the following:
- A staff member should be appointed as in-charge of COVID-19 control (could be the nurse of the
- Groups of up to 12 people are now allowed;
- Parents are now allowed to enter the premises to collect children;
- The restriction on mixing the toys from different rooms is lifted;
- The percentage of alcohol content in disinfectants has been set at minimum 70% instead of 60-80%;
- PE classes should be in the open air where possible, or in a ventilated room or room with sufficient space, ensuring as much physical distancing as possible.

Mass events are still not allowed, but from 18 May, restrictions on the activities of cultural art groups will be lifted, but only for small groups rehearsals. The maximum number of participants in public events was 5 persons. In August, theatres and cinemas were allowed to resume shows, but only outdoors. TV hosts were allowed to remove their masks during broadcasts if they are alone on set or providing sign translation. Live music could resume in restaurants (outside), and up to eight people were allowed to sit at one table (instead of five previously). Libraries and museums were also allowed to reopen.

Under the continuing State of Emergency, large funerals have continued and there is concern that they are hubs for transmission (see Section 6.1). As the pandemic is not yet under control, face-to-face visiting in all residential institutions under the Ministry of Health and Welfare (particularly care homes) is still suspended.

Improvements in the epidemiological situation have allowed for and end to the special service hours in shops for older people from 1 August and from 3 August the reopening of swimming pools. A new set of rules for gyms and pools has also been developed:
1. every exercise machine should have a liquid disinfectant dispenser next to it;
2. chairs around the swimming pools should be at least one and a half metres apart;
3. the shower cubicles, lockers and chairs should be disinfected after every customer;
4. the maximum capacity of a gym is only one person per 8 sqm.
5. the exercise machines should be 2 metres apart.  

The ban on gatherings and strikes in the country has been lifted, but safety rules (wearing a mask, keeping the 1.5m social distance) are still in place. Family celebrations and public events are allowed both indoors and outdoors, but up to a maximum of 40 people and with strict compliance with the safety rules.

Universities will resume face-to-face teaching from 1 September for new undergraduates, and from 15 September for all other students. For these students the universities themselves will decide on the most appropriate mix of both online and face-to-face learning modes. Schools will also reopen on 15 September. Wearing a mask in educational institutions is desirable, but not mandatory. However, daily thermometer readings and disinfection works will be carried out in all schools and all teachers will be tested before the start of the new school year.

The State of Emergency was then lifted by a quarantine in place until 11 January 2021, which was extended to 11 July 2020.The main restrictions imposed by the quarantine are:
- maximum of 60 people allowed at public events;
- - 14-day self-isolation or a negative PCR test is required when entering Armenia. If a certificate showing a negative COVID-19 test that was conducted within the previous 72 hours can be shown, the traveller is exempt from self-isolation. The certificate can be in Armenian, Russian or English and must be accompanied by a signed and sealed document containing all the contact details of the laboratory that has conducted the test, the name of the manager, the name of the tested person, his/her ID number, date of birth and the result of the test. Without such a certificate, travellers take a mandatory test at the airport upon arrival or at the designated check points when crossing the land border. After the test, the person must self-isolate until a negative test is obtained. The results of these PCR tests are registered in the ARMED system and are provided to the tested person within 48 hours. The test is performed at the expense of the person arriving. In case of a negative PCR test result, the person can come out of self-isolation;
- entry of non-citizens through the land border checkpoints is prohibited, except for i) family members of citizens of Armenia and persons with residence permit; ii) representatives of diplomatic missions, embassy staff members, representatives of international organizations, their family members; iii) persons crossing the border to attend funeral if they are close relatives of the deceased (parent, spouse, child, sister, brother); iv) drivers carrying out interstate cargo transportation (including those who leave the territory of Armenia after unloading trucks); v) all those persons, whose entry was approved by the the commander of the border troops, taking into account the urgency of the entry, the necessity, as well as the epidemic situation in those territories (https://www.e-gov.am/u_files/file/decrees/kar/2020/09/1514_1.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0dZQLi1cNP4korEKtZ-249o2wJXBw3ritTpBfVOX1vGxBmpR5oYhtKJHI).

Wearing a mask in indoor areas is mandatory, except for i) children aged 0-5, ii) when people are in their own house or car; iii) when people are smoking, drinking or eating; iv) other limited cases described in the guidelines (http://moh.am/images/legal-598.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1acsaxW4CDAt5U2yZRiXqQ-BArLbtzni9g6hKkhjwDtEdYvPlsfKjsdog). From 1 June 2021, wearing a mask in open-air public places is no longer compulsory and from 1 July 2021 the masks will no longer be mandatory indoors for fully vaccinated people. Fully vaccinated citizens are those who have received two doses of the vaccine and are registered with the Armed e-health system and who were provided a QR code.

On 16 October, the MoH once again advised people to work from home if at all possible – particularly people with pre-existing conditions. There are concerns that escalating conflict and the introduction of martial law with a second spike in COVID-19 cases could overload the health facilities and health workers. The Armenian authorities recommended a “conscious, voluntary lockdown” by refraining from nearly all social activities, from eating in restaurants to holding birthday parties to allowing children to play outside.

In view of the epidemiological situation in the country, on 27 October the Ministry of Education announced that the mid-term school break will be extended for another 2 weeks and will last until
12 November, except for 12th graders who will study online from 30 October and finish the academic year on 4 June. Pupils in grades 1-11 will finish the academic year on 18 June, and the first semester will end on 31 January. The Ministry of Education, is currently discussing two study formats for after 12 November, if the epidemiological situation does not improve: primary classes will study face-to-face across the country by strictly following all the rules set by the Ministry of Health, while middle and high school students will study online, apart from those in settlements and communities where there is no public transport, where lessons will be face-to-face. If the epidemiological situation improves, all schoolchildren will study face to face, while strictly following all the rules set by the Ministry of Health. Colleges and universities will continue to work remotely and online while preschools, art, sport and music schools as well will be closed until 12 November. From 7 December in-person learning will resume for grades 5-12 (grades 1-4 are already conducting in-person learning). Clinically vulnerable children will continue learning remotely, and school staff aged over 65 years should work remotely.

The national quarantine in place since 11 September 2020 to 11 January 2021, was extended to 11 July 2021. Although the situation remains serious, as there have been some improvements, some changes in the measures and restrictions have been made:
- Non-citizens of Armenia may also cross the border to enter Armenia through land border crossing points, if upon entering the territory of Armenia they present a negative PCR COVID-19 test result certificate. The test must be taken maximum 72 hours prior to crossing the border. Otherwise the person will be obliged to take a test at the checkpoint and self-isolate until a negative PCR test is obtained (previously, this requirement was only present at air border checkpoints).
- All the restrictions on holding public events are removed, including restrictions on the number of participants (previously 60 participants) and restrictions for organizing events indoors.

From 10 February 2021, some children were allowed to return to preschool facilities where:
- parents were not able to work remotely
- parents were registered as disabled
- there are more than three children in the household
- one or both parents are serving in the military
- the child has special educational needs
- the child is from a socially disadvantaged household

On 6 March the Ministry clarified the situation regarding preschool facilities and the rules of admission of children have been eased, the physical distancing requirement has been set at 1 metre instead of 1.5 metres, and the maximum number of children in a group has increased from 18 to 20.

As vaccination programmes are rolled-out across Europe, the Armenian government decided to amend the quarantine procedure, allowing foreign citizens with “green passports” (i.e. COVID-19 vaccination certificates to show the person is fully immunized), to arrive in Armenia without taking PCR test. The Ministry of Health has created a mobile application «Armed eHealth» to work as such certificates for those vaccinated against COVID-19 in Armenia. The requirement for a compulsory PCR test for one-year-old children when entering Armenia was also removed, since studies show that if parents test negative, children of this age will also have a negative result.

On 1 June Georgia will open its land border with Armenia. The only requirement for crossing the border of each country is a negative PCR test conducted during the last 72 hours or a vaccination certificate.

The Government took decisive steps to contain and suppress the epidemic, declaring a one-month State of Emergency on 16 March, followed by a full lock-down between 24 March and 12 April. . On 13 April, the Government voted to extend the State of Emergency by 30 days to 14 May 2020, when they further extended it until 13 June, then 13 July, then 12 August and 11 September. People are only allowed to leave their homes to buy food, receive medical care or exercise. The nationwide lockdown establishes the mandatory self-isolation of everyone in their place of residence or another dwelling of their choice. On 14 April from 00:01 to 23:59, people can change their place of residence or preferred location for self-isolation.

From 31 March, under the State of Emergency, people must: i) shop at places no farther than 500 m from their place of residence, self-isolation or work in urban areas, and no more than 1 km in rural areas; ii) exercise or cycle not farther than 1 km from their place of residence; iii) take a walk not farther than 1 km from their place of residence, and with a maximum of two adults or family members. Citizens will still need to have their IDs and fill out the mandatory movement permit form (in the mobile app or on paper).

Public transport, excluding the railway network, has been suspended, and the free movement of the population was restricted between and among the regions of Armenia and the administrative borders of the capital Yerevan. Special checkpoints were set up at locations designated by the National Security Service and the Police at 13:00 on 1 April 2020 to monitor the movement of persons and vehicles. These restrictions on movements between regions were removed from midnight on 22 April 2020 and the checkpoints were closed so the police could be deployed elsewhere.

Limited movement is allowed only on the home-work-home route, as well as for essential trips (e.g. groceries, pharmacy). A private vehicle can carry family members or several people from the same workplace with no restriction on the number of people in the car. Supermarkets are to serve only pensioners between the hours of 10:00AM and 12:00PM

The activities of all educational institutions and childcare facilities have been suspended for the entire period of the State of Emergency, with the exception of those providing distance learning.
Under the State of Emergency, sending and receiving parcels and having face-to-face visiting has been suspended in prisons, long-term psychiatric facilities, residential care homes and military bases. Public events with more than 20 people have also been banned (concerts, shows, sports events), as have private functions of more than 20 people (including weddings and funerals).