2020 March 17

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Anti-Corruption Daily

Mar/17/2020 -- Daily News Summary / Mass COVID19 testing results in high detection rate / Emergency gag on COVID fake news / 78 cases / Online schooling / IRS worker busted, Former Minister / Tushonka's nephew charged / Defamation lawsuits / and more...
by ar_david_hh

Disclaimer: All the accused are innocent until proven guilty by the court of law, even if they may sound as being guilty. Currency in Armenian Drams ֏ unless specified otherwise.

NSS busts an IRS agent for helping former Minister's business

NSS memo says:

In 2014, an IRS agent, who was also a Finance Ministry worker, made sure that his boss's (Finance Minister HHK Gagik Khachatryan) businesses were able to import products without being checked at the border.

As a result, the businesses routinely imported expensive ceramics from Spain and Italy while marking them as cheaper products, to evade taxes.

A felony case is launched. The IRS official left the country in Sep-2018. An arrest warrant in absentia is issued.


Manvel Grigoryan's mayor nephew charged

Prosecutor memo said:

Mayor of Arshaluys settlement Zarzand Grigoryan, the nephew of Tushonka, abused his powers. For personal benefit, he helped a municipality member by appointing his legally unqualified wife as a school director in 2014, and director of other govt-funded organizations. A felony case is launched.


Russia releases the March 1st suspect

In 2018 the govt charged former "March 1st" investigator Vahagn Harutyunyan with covering up and falsifying March 1st evidence. He went to Russia for "medical treatment" but hasn't returned.

2 days ago Russia arrested him. Yesterday they released him because his charges "reached the statute of limitations per Russian law".


Prosecutors: forest protector busted with illegal logging

Stepanavan police have busted a govt-funded Hayantar forest protection agency worker with illegally cutting several trees. The loot is confiscated. A felony case is launched.


Healthcare Minister wins & loses defamation lawsuits

The Healthcare Ministry earlier launched a massive and successful campaign to vaccinate adolescent girls against HPV virus known to cause cancer in women. Some people criticized the vaccinations.

Healthcare Minister Torosyan criticized the critics.

One of his critics, a medical field official Gevorg Grigoryan, accused him of defamation and sued him. Torosyan won this lawsuit.

CORRECTION: in one of my earlier posts I wrote that Gevorg Grigoryan disrupted Torosyan's press conference in 2019. It was Gevorg Tamamyan, not Gevorg Grigoryan, who did so.


In other news. In 2018 Torosyan fired the director of St. Gregory Illuminator hospital after finding massive govt-subsidy fraud by the administration. A felony case was launched. The director is on the run.

When Tovmasyan Torosyan mentioned this incident, the fugitive director, who happens to be Serzh's relative, remotely sued Torosyan for alleged defamation.

At the time, Torosyan complained that the judge refused to hold a secret hearing so Torosyan could present secret documents from SIS showing evidence of a crime. He lost the lawsuit. Cassations Court didn't accept his petition to challenge the verdict.

Torosyan has refused to apologize despite the court order. "If he [former director] wants an apology, he should come to Armenia, turn himself to law enforcement and answer their questions ... Our court system has procedural and trustworthiness problems."


COVID news

Healthcare Ministry hotline for COVID: Dial 8003. If you agree with me, go to Joe....... 80.......0............8.... thank you very much.

Yesterday the Govt declared a State of Emergency and banned large private/public gatherings among other measures.

Ejmiatsin (wedding) and Yerevan (factory worker) are the cities with local person-to-person transmission. Health Ministry is trying to identify patients' circles.

travelers must be isolated

Armenian citizens can still travel to Armenia, but if they're from the following countries, it's automatic 14-day isolation or quarantine: China, Italy, Iran, Korea, Japan, Spain, France, Germany, Swiss, Denmark, Austria, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Nederlands, UK.


Citizens returning from other - lesser impacted - countries will be required to isolate themselves in their homes for 14 days.



Ministry does mass tests - gets high numbers / No symptoms, yet COVID positive

Healthcare Minister Torosyan said:

We just did 50 more tests in Ejmiatsin on [wedding] people without symptoms, as an experiment to see if our method of identifying potential suspects is accurate, and 7 of them indeed came positive. They feel healthy and don't even feel the need to lay down. They're isolated.

52 so far. 1 recovered. 0 deaths. 0 critical.


Pashinyan went LIVE / 95% no symptoms

52 cases so far. 32 are from Ejmiatsin. 11 from the Yerevan factory.

The reason we had a spike in confirmed cases is that the Healthcare Ministry decided to do tons of tests on quarantined people with no symptoms.

2 have pneumonia. They are doing fine. 1 of them has a 36.8c temp, the other 37c. The vast majority are taking it very easily, mostly with no fever or symptoms.

We're examining this in detail so we can draft a plan of action. Right now the plan is to quarantine many people, but it's possible that the mild patients, who have already spent some time in a hospital, could be isolated in their homes instead. It's a possibility. If we can raise the level of our society's sense of understanding and responsibility, we could achieve this.


Spirit prices remain mostly the same. It's higher than before because of an earlier adopted low to establish minimum prices.

Certain grain prices are up because some people rushed to stores. There is no need for this. Large stores report a 30-40% trade increase, while small stores report a decline. I encourage you to support the local small business.

Our banking system is resilient. The Central Bank purchased and reserved lots of $.

End of PM speech.


Central Bank cut the refinancing rate by 0.25%, setting it at 5.25%. "According to the main scenario of the Central Bank, economic growth will slow down sufficiently in the short term, but will not affect the long-term prospects of the country's economic potential... Services and leisure are hit the hardest."




PETAK market & COVID

The director of PETAK market was criticized for not shutting down the market

The PETAK director responded: "We're only operating the open-air portions after shutting down confined areas. It isn't busy. There are no large gatherings of >20 people.



Healthcare Ministry briefing

"No country is immune from this. World numbers are going up everywhere. The good news is it's not as contagious as measles, it's ~on-par with flu...

We're quarantining anyone who had contact with Yerevan's Shengavit factory for 14 days...

We launched the Ministry hotline on March 1st and received 11,000 calls ever since, mostly about symptom questions.

We'll have 5,000 more test kits next week. We don't test everyone who calls and asks for one; there need to be symptoms or prior contact with an infected individual...

2,000 people have offered to volunteer and help the Healthcare Ministry."




COVID misinformation gag under State of Emergency

State of Emergency allows the govt to control the private media to reduce "harmful misinformation" etc. So far no instances of punishment. The govt spoke with several outlets who "violated protocols" to discuss it.

"We urge not to spread panic... Spreading COVID rumors, false infection count, and other fake news about COVID, on social media and TV, will be penalized... Get your news from official sources," said Justice Ministry.

1st deputy PM Tigran Avinyan has been appointed as the chief commandant "paret" to monitor the ban on mass gatherings, COVID fake news gag, etc.



transport overcrowding banned

Emergency Commandant Tigran Avinyan instructed public transport operators to ensure passengers aren't traveling packed, to reduce virus spread. "More vehicles should be added if necessary. Drivers will be checked for symptoms every day before entering the route."


High Tech Ministry about internet/phone

High Tech Minister Arshakyan: We spoke with ISPs and cell networks and they said the services won't be disrupted. They have extra workers to substitute if needed. The public TV and radio won't be disrupted either.


Economic Competition Committee monitors / Product prices / Cheap masks from China

The ECC says there are reports of some people unnecessarily hoarding lots of products. "You have to remember that those 4 dozen eggs have an expiration date... One person bought 108 toilet papers (քաքլան?)... We monitor 44 product prices daily... The spirit price increase was due to EAEU rule establishing minimum price... Flour prices aren't impacted by COVID, some locations raised prices to match dollar/dram currency changes... We're still monitoring and could end up finding violators... We penalized 2 sellers for abusing alco-gel pricing, the manufacturers themselves haven't raised prices... Face masks prices are up but that's normal globally. The good news is we struck a cheap deal with China to buy lots of masks for AMD 84 each."



64 cases / wedding / factory

COVID went from 52 to 64. All 12 new patients were already isolated after having contact with Ejmiatsin wedding and Yerevan factory patients.


72 cases / the circle expands

8 new cases related to Ejmiatsin wedding and Yerevan factory. Some of them were not quarantined at the time of detection. Healthcare Ministry will continue the cat and mouse game of finding and isolating their circles.


78 cases / 95% without symptoms / mass tests bring results / 600 quarantined

6 more results came positive. They were all related to the factory in Yerevan.

Healthcare Minister Torosyan:

18 of the 78 cases were so mild they would have never been detected had we not done mass-tests. They would have gone through it and become healthy. Instead, we proactively seek potential suspects.

95% of all patients don't have symptoms. They only had mild fever initially.

World practice shows that in these mild situations the patients are sent home and isolated, instead of being kept in hospitals. Right now we're keeping all patients in the hospital.

600 quarantined. Few more hundred soon.


situation in Artsakh

13 COVID tests were done in Artsakh today. 12 came negative. 1 is waiting for results.

Overall 71 tests. 0 recorded cases.

Artsakh has suspended visas for foreign tourists. Public transport is disinfected twice a day. Some public workers were sent home. Large gatherings, cultural and sports events are suspended.

The presidential elections will take place soon.



www.civilnet.am/news/2020/03/17/Արցախում-նախընտրական-քարոզարշավը-չի-դադարեցվի-կկիրառվեն-սահմանափակումներ/378750 firms donating masks/alcogel

Electric Networks of Armenia has donated 1k masks and 100 bottles of alcogel to Ejmiatsin municipality.


Pashinyan visiting supermarkets / Unknown infections

PM went to several supermarkets to see if there is panicked shopping. "Yesterday there was an uptick of purchase of flour and macaron products, but the shelves are full, trade is down 20% again back to normal," said one employee.

PM live-streamed the full shelves to prove "it's enough for everyone."

He stood near the cashier desk to spy what people buy: "Not much, bags are small, great, thanks."


PM: "There are many people who are currently sick but aren't aware yet. Many people got sick, defeated the virus, and don't even know they did. This is because the vast majority don't develop concerning symptoms."

He visited a honey shop. The trade was up slightly.

A produce market was full. Garlic and carrot trade was up.

"By the way, a photo about a toilet paper supply circulated in Parliament yesterday but it turns out it wasn't in Armenia," said PM.

PM met tourists from Los Angeles who were shopping in Yerevan, had a chitchat about the situation in LA. https://youtu.be/WEP2DegDq0I

He then met a Canadian man who came to get Armenian citizenship. PM then told his bodyguards to stop pushing people around. https://youtu.be/rbicyP5aQB8



cities disinfect apartment complexes, playgrounds

Stepanavan and Shengavit (Yerevan) began disinfecting areas of large population gatherings, such as apartment complexes, playgrounds.


more firms switch to remote services

UCOM and VivaCell telecom giants will shut down most of their physical locations for visits. UCOM is providing free movies on uTV app.



more banks go easy on clients

ABB Bank joined VTB, HSBC, Armsvinbank, AD etc. won't enforce loan payment deadlines for 1.5 months.



Education Ministry launches online portal

Education Ministry launched http://heravar.armedu.am , a platform for remote classes, finding schools, educational materials. They tested it on 2 schools earlier.

The Ministry will send trained staff to every school to train teachers on how to handle online classes.

(Good things coming out of COVID?)


COVID timeline

January 30: govt forms COVID Taskforce to monitor the spread of this new virus.

February 24: no cases in Armenia yet. Govt shuts down the border with Iran. Iranian cargo drivers banned from traveling through Armenia.

February 29: Ejmiatsin super-spreader arrives from Italy. She's already infected but doesn't know yet. Later develops symptoms but hides it from govt. Attends a wedding.

March 1: Iranian-Armenians arrive. One of them tests positive. 1st recorded case in Armenia. 31 of them are placed in quarantine in Golden Palace hotel.

March 2: schools close for 1 week.

March 10: Italy declares full quarantine.

March 11: 3 new cases. Earlier they traveled to Italy.

March 12: Ejmiatsin wedding super-spreader, who came 13 days ago, is finally detected.

March 12: all schools shut down again.

March 13: Europe tightens border checks. Some countries close borders. WHO declares a pandemic.

March 14: Armenia closes border with Georgia, too, after closing it with Iran 30 days ago.

March 14: theaters and other govt-run leisure places close.

March 15: Ejmiatsin on lock-down.

March 16: more foreign travel restrictions. Auto-quarantines for some, isolation for others.

March 16: state of emergency. Ban on mass gatherings. Ban on foreign travel. Medical facilities under govt-control.

March 16: it is revealed that Ejmiatsin isn't the only person-to-person hotspot. Yerevan factory workers getting infected.

March 17: Govt reveals that they've been doing mass tests. Many cases detected "accidentally". 95% have no symptoms. 600 quarantined.

COVID antidode

American doctors as Kaiser Permanente tested an anti-COVID vaccine on a patient who reported feeling great immediately afterward. Won't be available to public for a year.



Link to original report and comments: https://www.reddit.com/r/armenia/comments/fkcjyq/mar172020_daily_news_summary_mass_covid19_testing/

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2020 Daily Armenia Reports