YEREVAN — Armenia reported a record 2,603 coronavirus cases and hundreds of its unvaccinated citizens awaited hospitalization on Thursday as health authorities struggled to cope with a new wave of infections in the country of about 3 million.
The Armenian Ministry of Health also said in the morning that 32 more people have died from COVID-19 in the past day, raising to 5,902 the official death toll from the disease. The figure does not include the deaths of 1,243 other citizens which the ministry also links to the coronavirus.
The daily number of new officially confirmed cases has been growing steadily since June amid a continuing lax enforcement of sanitary rules and a very slow pace of coronavirus vaccination.
Yerevan’s ambulance service said its medics are working nonstop to respond to hundreds of phone calls from people infected with COVID-19.
“People call us during the day and they call us at night,” one ambulance doctor told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “People are suffocating in their homes. Only we can help them.”
The Ministry of Health said late last week that Armenian hospitals have run out of vacant beds for COVID-19 patients, resulting in a waiting list of more than 400 infected people in need of urgent care.
The coronavirus section of the largest of those hospitals, the Surb Grigor Lusavorich Medical Center, has over 500 regular and 114 intensive-care beds. All of them were occupied when an RFE/RL correspondent visited the facility on Tuesday.
“It can be said that we are now at the peak [of the new coronavirus wave,]” said Petros Manukyan, the Yerevan-based hospital’s deputy director.
Only one of the more than 100 patients in intensive care was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the hospital administration.
Vaccine hesitancy remains widespread in Armenia despite the soaring coronavirus cases and deaths caused by them. Nor do the vast majority of Armenians wear mandatory masks indoors, including in overcrowded public buses. Authorities essentially stopped fining them more than a year ago.
Ministry of Health data shows that just over 403,000 people received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and only about 185,000 of them were fully vaccinated as of October 17. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan ordered relevant authorities to use their “administrative levers” to speed up the vaccination process.
The authorities had already obligated all public and private sector employees to get inoculated or take coronavirus tests twice a month at their own expense, a requirement effective from October 1. Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan said on October 11 that they could also introduce a mandatory coronavirus health pass for entry to cultural and leisure venues.