Argentina’s government has announced a dramatic loosening of Covid-19 restrictions starting next month, as confirmed cases and fatalities continue to decrease.
Officials from President Alberto Fernández's government said it would loosen pandemic restrictions for arriving visitors, approve a gradual reopening of borders, allow most commercial and social activities to operate without limits on capacity and drop the obligatory use of face masks while outdoors or walking on the street.
In another headline takeaway, the nation’s football clubs will also be able to re-open their stadium doors to supporters, with up to 50 percent capacity.
All the restrictions will apply, however, to those who have completed their vaccination programme, while in closed spaces.
Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said the changes would allow more activities in closed places, a move which the government hopes will boost economic activities
"We are in a very positive moment, we know that the pandemic has not ended, we have to maintain care," Vizzotti said at a press conference in the capital. "We are moving towards the full recovery of activities."
The minister said that the use of facemasks while circulating outdoors would cease to be mandatory as of October 1, while they will still be used on public transport, in cinemas, theatres and entertainment venues, workplaces and at large outdoor events or where there is an agglomeration of people.
"We will lift the mandatory use of the mask outdoors, [when] circulating and not within groups," said Vizzotti, who was joined by new Cabinet Chief Juan Manzur.
President Fernández, fresh from a heavy loss in recent PASO primaries, will be hoping the government’s lifting of restrictions will boost the economy in the build-up to crucial midterm elections on November 14. He is expected to announce economic measures to boost consumer spending in the coming days.
Argentina’s economy was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which deepened a recession that began in 2018. GDP slumped 9.9 percent in 2020, in large part due to strict coronavirus restrictions that brought an almost total halt to activity. Poverty now reaches 42 percent of the population, with inflation running at more than 50 percent over the last 12 months.
Under the new rules, the government will allow all economic, industrial, commercial, religious, cultural, recreational and sports activities in closed places to return to full capacity, provided they ensure preventive measures such as social distancing, use of facemasks and improved ventilation. All outdoor events with more than 1,000 people in attendance can operate at 50 percent capacity.
Starting October, social gatherings will be allowed without a cap on the number of people while nightclubs, discos and entertainment venues will be allowed to return for those fully vaccinated at 50 percent capacity.
Vizzotti attributed the relaxing of restrictions to a continued decrease in the number of infections and the advancement of Argentina’s vaccination campaign, rather than the electoral campaign.
Referencing the potential spread of the more contagious Delta variant, she said authorities had managed to “contain the outbreaks and delay” its arrival “as much as possible.”
After a slow start to its vaccination campaign,around 63.4 percent of the 45-million population has now received at least one dose of Covid-19 shot, while 43.7 percent have been fully vaccinated. Filtering out those aged under 18, the figures rise to 87.5 percent and 60.7 percent respectively.
The government’s target is to reach 50 percent of citizens fully vaccinated by October, before focusing on giving shots to adolescents.
Under this framework, Vizzoti confirmed that the Fernández administration would allow “a gradual and careful opening of the borders" in the coming weeks.
Starting this Tuesday, Argentines, residents and foreigners who arrive in the country for work reasons will not be obliged to enter into isolation, as long as the traveller has proof they have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 at least 14 days prior to arrival.
Vizzotti also confirmed that as from October, citizens from neighbouring countries will be allowed to enter Argentina without undertaking a quarantine period (again if vaccinated), with the country’s land borders set to reopen on a staggered basis.
On November 1, the same rules will be extended to all fully vaccinated foreigners, according to the government’s new rules.
Those who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to enter the country, but they will be obliged to undertake a quarantine period of at least seven days.
Manzur, who was sworn-in only on Monday, said that recent data on infections and fatalities had been “very promising” and that things needed to “continue in this direction.”
“Perhaps we are going through the last stage of the pandemic,” he expressed hopefully.
Since March 2020, Argentina has recorded some 5.2 million cases of Covid-19, with more than 114,000 deaths.
Not all regional governments approve of the easing of restrictions. Authorities in Salta Province said they would extend the use of the facemask while outdoors in its territory, in defiance of the government’s measures.
Supporters in stadiums
While many of Tuesday’s announcements were something of a surprise, the return of supporters to football stadiums was widely anticipated.
Earlier this month, the government had allowed in fans to watch Argentina’s national team defeat Bolivia 3-0 at a World Cup qualifier at the Monumental, with the stadium allowed to reach 30 percent capacity.
After the event passed off without major incident, Vizzotti and Manzur confirmed Tuesday that fans would return to stadiums en masse for the first time since March last year. Supporters will be allowed in as from October 1, just two days before the country’s most-anticipated football match: the Superclásico between Boca Juniors and River Plate, which kicks off at 5pm on Sunday, October 3 at the Monumental.
"All massive events, including football matches, are enabled with 50 percent capacity,” said Vizzotti, who said the Security and Tourism & Sports Ministries would now meet with officials from the Argentine Football Association (AFA) to define “what requirements” would be needed in order for fans to enter.