Coronavirus pieces floating in a subtle gradient of color and depth of field

Competing Enemies

How the Azeri attack on Artsakh undermined the battle against COVID-19 

It has been almost a year since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced in Armenia on March 1, 2020 and Artsakh’s Ministry of Health confirmed its first case in April of 2020 in the village of Mirik. By March 16th, the Armenian government declared a state of emergency through September 12, with a lockdown through January 11 of 2021. Face masks were required in public and a fine of 10,000 drams would be imposed with failure to comply. On August 17, 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs issued a travel advisory for Armenia, admonishing travelers to reconsider their flights to control the spread of the pandemic.

Then literally overnight, on September 27, 2020, life as Armenia knew it changed in an instant with the news of an all-out attack on Artsakh by Azerbaijan. Priorities quickly shifted from wearing PPE and social distancing to wearing armor and sheltering in tight spaces. By all accounts, the nation could not fight an enemy on the border and an enemy without borders, all at the same time. Transfixed on the war, the suggestion of practicing health guidelines was buried under new fears and worries.

As young and older conscripts were called up and assembled to the front, many suspect the virus spread among the troops on route to the frontlines, tightly packed in buses and military vehicles.

By this time, civilians from Artsakh began to flee their homes and travel to Yerevan seeking refuge from the constant shelling and drone strikes. Adding to the risk of exposure, diasporans continued to fly to Armenia to provide urgent medical aid and humanitarian services.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in Armenia
Source: Armenia Ministry of Health, according to U.S. Embassy in Armenia

It was the perfect storm for the spike of COVID cases. For medical professionals, the reality of COVID in their midst was subsumed by the urgency of saving lives on the battlefield.  

After the hostilities ended on November 9, COVID-19 death tolls continued to soar in Armenia just like the rest of the world. Only Armenia faced a unique dilemma: battling the aftershock of war on top of U.S. CDC-registered level four COVID-19 rates. Turning the public’s attention back to the pandemic has been an uphill battle. Enforcement of safety guidelines like mask-wearing, temperature checks, and social distancing is still a problem at times as Armenia grapples with public demonstrations, overwhelmed hospitals fatigued before health professionals. From January 2020 to February 2021, Armenia had a total of 166,427 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 1,556,053 recoveries and 3,056 deaths. 

Today, Armenia is in lockdown through July 2021, but hopes for a safer and healthier Armenian population lie ahead. The government has commissioned 600,000 doses of vaccines from COVAX, a joint initiative of Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to fast-track the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The Russian Ministry of Health also donated a cluster of their Sputnik V vaccine to Armenia, first administered to a handful of government officials. Armenia also plans on acquiring the British-Swedish vaccine AstraZeneca. Three companies continue to provide COVID-19 testing in Armenia: Diagen Plus, Citomed, and Arabkir.

Though the number of confirmed COVID cases has decreased as of late, Armenia is one of those worst-case scenarios from which other nations could take heed. Fighting two different enemies at once is apparently a zero-sum game.

Originally published in the March 2021 ​issue of AGBU Magazine. end character

About the AGBU Magazine

AGBU Magazine is one of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.