Hundreds of Iranians visiting Armenia to get vaccinated against COVID-19 continued to spend nights on streets in Yerevan on Tuesday waiting in long lines that formed around outdoor vaccination centers.
They are keen to get free shots offered to not only Armenian citizens and residents but also foreign visitors. The mostly young people say that in Iran priority is given to elderly citizens and that they have to wait for inoculation for weeks and even months.
The influx began about two weeks, resulting in long lines at state policlinics and other vaccination centers across the Armenian capital. This led the Armenian Ministry of Health to restrict non-resident foreigners’ access to those facilities on July 8.
Foreigners who do not have Armenian residency permits have since been able to get vaccinated only at mobile sites set up in shopping malls and two major streets in downtown Yerevan. Each of those sites is allowed to inoculate no more than 50 foreign visitors a day.
Another restriction that will take effect on Thursday will make only those foreigners who have spent at least 10 days in Armenia eligible for a coronavirus vaccine.
The queues have been particularly long outside one such facility opened on Northern Avenue, the city’s main pedestrian boulevard. Hundreds of Iranian nationals have spent several nights there.
Most of them refused to be interviewed on camera on Tuesday. Those who agreed to talk to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service criticized the restrictions imposed by the Armenian authorities.
“The Armenian government had promised that all tourists can be vaccinated here,” complained one woman who identified herself as Shohre. “I’m now having a serious problem: they vaccinate no more than 50 people a day and I don’t know when it will be my turn.”
“We have been registered and I’m 400th on the waiting list,” she said. “I suffer from a heart disease and the coronavirus could be fatal for me. I will try to spend another night here. Maybe I will get my turn.”
An Iranian man, who has spent two nights on the street, worried that he may not make it to the front of the line by Tuesday evening despite being 20th on the list. “If I don’t get a vaccine today it will mean that they pay bribes to cut the line,” claimed the 30-year-old Puya, who arrived in Armenia with five other compatriots.
Armenian Health Minister Anahit Avanesian visited the Northern Avenue site later in the day. “This demonstrates just how desirable and important the vaccination is,” she said, pointing to the long queue contrasting with many Armenians’ mistrust of coronavirus jabs.
According to the Ministry of Health, only about 112,000 people in Armenia making up less than 4 percent of the country’s population received one or two doses of vaccines as of Tuesday morning. The ministry did not specify how many of them are non-resident foreigners.
“In the last 20 days we have had a sharp increase in the daily number of inoculations,” Avanesian told reporters. “I’m talking about figures relating to our citizens.”
Economy Minister Vahan Kerobian controversially touted the influx of Iranians over the weekend, saying that Armenia should cash in on this and other forms of “medical tourism.” Critics countered that the number of vaccine doses acquired by the Armenian government so far is enough to vaccinate only a small percentage of the country’s own population.
Avanesian insisted in this regard that the government is not using its vaccination campaign to attract more tourists.
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