Armenians have flocked back to cafes, restaurants and hair salons following the government’s lifting of the coronavirus lockdown.
Cafes in the popular Yerevan areas around the Cascade and Saryan Street have been full, albeit with some concessions to the ongoing pandemic. Tables are set apart farther than normal, but often not the full proscribed 1.5 meters. Waiters wear masks and gloves, offering hand sanitizer to customers and checking their temperatures. Still, in the cozy, French-style cafes popular in the area full social distancing is impossible, and many cautious residents continued to give public places a wide berth.
“We’re being careful, keeping a distance, keeping tables apart” one café employee told the website news.am. “In general, we have a vigilant attitude against the virus.”
“We are declaring new stage of fight against the coronavirus,” he said. “We are moving towards a decentralized struggle. This phenomenon is known to all of us from 2018’s non-violent people’s Velvet Revolution.”
While up until now the Ministry of Health and an ad hoc body, the office of the commandant (led by the deputy prime minister), have dealt with the coronavirus outbreak, now “each citizen is taking on the responsibility of the fight against the epidemic,” Pashinyan continued. “The first [responsibility] is not to be infected and the second is not to infect.”
Many Armenians, though, continue to take a fatalistic attitude toward the virus, or deny that it exists at all. “If it’s bound to happen it will,” said one bare-faced woman interviewed in Yerevan by news.am. “Many more people are moving around now and wearing a mask and gloves will look artificial.”
Social media is full of stories of lax enforcement of the regime. One reporter from the news.am wrote on her Facebook page about people in line at a bank carrying out a mask exchange: those leaving the bank were giving their used face masks to the patrons about to enter.
While restaurants are supposed to limit tables to five customers, RFE/RL reported that when one of its reporters asked one Yerevan establishment to celebrate a large birthday party, the restaurant agreed to host them with no restrictions.
Meanwhile, the spread of the disease continued. On May 7, Armenia announced 101 new cases of COVID-19, two deaths, and 50 recoveries. In total, the country has recorded 2,884 cases, with 42 deaths and 1,185 recoveries.
Health Minister Arsen Torosyan said that those numbers will continue to grow. By the end of May Armenia could see 10,000 infections, “and if the rules are not observed, that number could increase,” he told RFE/RL.
Ani Mejlumyan is a reporter based in Yerevan.