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ARGENTINA | 18-04-2020 10:56

What we learned this week: Apr 13th-19th

Stories that caught our eye from the last seven days in Argentina.

CORONAVIRUS TOLL

At press time there was a total of 2,669 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 124 deaths, as compared to 1,975 cases and 82 deaths the previous Friday. Apart from the rising figures, the first week of the second leg of quarantine followed an increasingly familiar course with the extended availability of banking services being one major difference as against the first leg. One very visible novelty was the almost universal use of face-masks on metropolitan streets as from midweek in compliance with a new municipal health norm.

 

DEBT OFFER ARRIVES

The government’s offer to its creditors was finally presented on Thursday afternoon, more than a fortnight after the original March 31 deadline. The offer consisted of a 62 percent on interest payments, 5.4 percent on capital and a grace period of three years with a bond swap due to start in 2023, paying an initial 0.5 percent and rising as the Argentine economy becomes more “sustainable” to average an estimated 2.33 percent. President Alberto Fernández admitted that the offer was tantamount to a “virtual default.” Market reactions were benign – country risk, which had surged beyond the 4,000-point barrier in midweek, dropped to 3,985 points after the announcement before falling almost a further 13 percent yesterday to close the week at 3,479, while Argentine bonds in New York went up as much as 14 percent yesterday after starting the day as a mildly positive mixed bag. On Wednesday Economy Minister Martín Guzmán sought a moratorium from the Paris Club with US$2.1 billion falling due next month, a request already anticipated by legislators of the centre-right Juntos por el Cambio opposition

 

DOLLAR TURBULENCE

The dollar had a turbulent week, moving into three-digit territory after Easter to close yesterday around 43 percent above the official exchange rate (which was 67.75 pesos according to Banco Nación). Some parallel exchange rates were as high as 105 pesos.

 

INFLATION 3.3% IN MARCH

Last month’s inflation was 3.3 percent, INDEC statistics bureau reported on Wednesday, well above most forecasts and reversing the deceleration so far this year. Year in, year out education costs always spike dramatically at the March start of the school year in Argentina and this pandemic year was no exception, even with no classes – this item soared 17.5 percent. Other items with above average increases were communications (8.3 percent), garments and footwear (4.2 percent) and food and beverages (3.9 percent), the most important of them all. These sectors offset the stabilising influence of a relatively calm official dollar and frozen utility rates and transport fares.

 

FACE MASKS OBLIGATORY IN CITY AND PROVINCE

Thousands of people performing essential services or shopping for needed food and medicine were using often homemade face-masks en masse in the City of Buenos Aires as from Wednesday when they were made obligatory as part of the strategy against the spread of the novel coronavirus on pain of fines of up to 80,000 pesos. Half a dozen provinces had already made them compulsory before Easter. The main train and subway stations and individual police officers on the beat have also been equipped with thermometers as a further control measure.

 

KICILLOF TESTED

A health scare sidelined Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof from Thursday’s announcement of Argentina’s debt offer to creditors at Olivos presidential residence. The governor had paid a Good Friday visit to Belgrano Hospital in the Greater Buenos Aires district of San Martín where in the following days Covid-19 was found to be running rife among the medical staff with no less than five doctors and 10 nurses testing positive for coronavirus. Kicillof only returned to his normal routine yesterday after testing negative and despite the scare was already contemplating a partial relaxation of quarantine as of next week in as many as 98 of the province’s 135 districts (of which 58 have yet to confirm a case of coronavirus), in line with similar talk at national level yesterday by Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero.

 

CÓRDOBA PREPARES

Hundreds of graves are being dug at San Vicente cemetery in Córdoba provincial capital in anticipation of the coronavirus pandemic death toll. Last weekend Córdoba municipal employees resembling astronauts with their protective clothing could be seen at work in their grim mission, which started in the first days of quarantine – on March 23, according to Damián Bizzi, spokesman for the SUOEM trade union representing those workers. Army soldiers have now been brought in to step up the pace of the work from 10 to 90 graves a day, added Bizzi, although the Army denies involvement. Córdoba’s confirmed cases of coronavirus already topped 200 last weekend to account for almost 10 percent of the national total then.

 

BOLIVIA COMPLAINS

Bolivian Foreign Minister Karen Longaric last Monday sent a fresh, protest to Argentina over the statements of Evo Morales (exiled in , Buenos Aires since last December), who had criticised his successors in La Paz over their handling of the coronavirus crisis (at the time of the protest Bolivia had an almost double-digit fatality percentage with 27 dead out of 330 infected). Early this year the Jeanine Áñez caretaker administration had been irked by Morales undertaking to form “armed militias” should he return to the country whereupon he would face an arrest warrant on charges of sedition and terrorism.

 

FLIGHT TO CHINA

Aerolíneas Argentinas announced last Wednesday the departure of the first of a series of flights to China to fetch medical supplies and protective equipment to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. The Airbus 330-200 picked up a shipment of 13 tons in Shanghai in the course of a round trip of 55 hours. Meanwhile passenger as opposed to freight traffic was strictly limited but repatriation continued at a trickle last week with a daily average of 300-400 returnees from abroad at Ezeiza International Airport and a cap of 700.

 

TWITTER MISHAP?

President Alberto Fernández admitted to an “involuntary error” last weekend when he used the presidential Twitter account to relay an insultingly hostile tweat by the Kirchnerite journalist Dante López Forresi against his colleague Jonatan Viale for saying that Fernández was sticking to a strict quarantine because he was mesmerised by the opinion polls. Opposition deputies expressed their solidarity with Viale.

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