Argentina surpassed the grim landmark of 60,000 deaths from Covid-19 on Wednesday, with the country stricken by a exponential increase in infections and second wave of coronavirus.
The Health Ministry reported Wednesday that 25,932 new cases of Covid-19 had been recorded over the past 24 hours, along with 291 fatalities.
"Argentina is experiencing the worst moment of the pandemic since March 3 last year. It is the moment of greatest risk," declared Health Minister Carla Vizzotti at a press conference on Wednesday.
She warned that infections were surging, along with the number of admissions to intensive car units. Bed occupancy in ICUs in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA) has risen to 75 percent.
Argentina, a country of around 45 million people, has recorded 2,769,552 infections and 60,083 deaths since the start of the global pandemic.
As the virus crisis continues, Argentina is in the midst of a legal and political battle over schooling. Last Wednesday, President Alberto Fernández extended the hours of a nighttime curfew and ordered the shuttering of school premises in the AMBA region.
However, that decision has been challenged by opposition leader and Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who has sought to keep in-person classes. The Juntos por el Cambio leader has taken his case to the Supreme Court in order to receive a definitive ruling on whether City Hall has the "autonomy" to decide if classes should continue. Rodríguez Larreta has argued that schools "are not contagious."
Speaking Wednesday, Vizzotti asked Argentines to prioritise healthcare over politics.
"We need to prioritise health over politics and put more value on the collective risk [we face]," she said, warning that Argentina's struggling health system is "at risk of saturation."
Justifying the president's restrictions, Vizzotti said that "it is not about the individual risk of attending classes, but the collective risk in an urban area with intense community transmission of the virus." She said the sheer movement of people related to schools remaining open exacerbated the risk of infection.
"We are seeking to reduce the speed of contagion and that is the health reason for that decision which is not in conflict with any other right," said Vizzotti. "This measure is taken in the AMBA because it is the epicentre of the pandemic. When the curve [of infections] shoots up, it is very difficult to interrupt it."
The minister also took time to hail the announcement that Argentina had become the first country to produce a local version of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine.
Local pharmaceutical firm Laboratorios Richmond announced Tuesday it had produced 21,000 doses of the shot after a transfer of technology from the vaccine's creator the Gamaleya laboratory. The jab will be called 'Sputnik VIDA,' which the acronym standing for "Vacuna de Inmunización para el Desarrollo Argentino," or in English "Immunisation vaccine for Argentine development.")
"This is great news, we have to be prudent and wait for quality control – we are clear about the complexity of the production process," said Vizzotti, who hailed the development as a "milestone."