Rounding off a week in which Argentina became one of only six countries to record more than one million confirmed cases of Covid-19, President Alberto Fernández yesterday announced a 14-day extension of existing quarantine measures.
The country is still struggling to half the spread of Covid-19. While new cases are being recorded at a lower rate in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA), infections are now on sharply the rise in several inland provinces.
The Health Ministry confirmed 15,718 new cases on Friday evening, taking Argentina’s overall caseload to 1,069,368. Officials said 382 new fatalities had been recorded over the past 24 hours, lifting the death toll to 28,338.
Earlier in the day, the quarantine triumvirate of Fernández, Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Buenos Aires Governor Axel Kicillof all made announcements detailing the next steps of the lockdown.
Speaking from Misiones, President Fernández announced the extension of coronavirus restrictions for a further fortnight, though he said there would b a special focus on eight provinces with the worst contagion, listing them as Santa Fe, Córdoba, San Luis, Mendoza, Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut and Tucumán.
The Peronist leader said those regions currently account for 55 percent of all new cases. By way of contrast, Fernández said that infections in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA) had recorded “eight consecutive weeks” of falling rates.
However, Misiones, from where he spoke, will be joined by Corrientes, Formosa, Entre Ríos, Catamarca, Jujuy, La Pampa and San Juan with the less strict preventive and obligatory social distancing known by the acronym of DISPO, permitting most activities, whereas within those eight provinces as well as eight other districts (the Federal Capital, Buenos Aires Province, Chaco, La Rioja, Salta, Santa Cruz, Santiago del Estero and Tierra del Fuego) some cities and departments will come under ASPO social isolation, essentially authorising the circulation only of those performing essential services within strict protocols and health controls (in cities over half a million such activities must be authorised by the Cabinet chief while in other localities the approval of the local governor is needed).
"We are far from having resolved this issue," declared Fernández as he detailed the situation facing the country.
"We feel that we are stabilising at a plateau of 15,000 daily cases," said the Peronist leader.
"We are going to continue in exactly the same conditions we are in today. We still cannot stay calm," he added.
For two weeks, the use of public transport, large shows and concerts and social gatherings in closed spaces will continue to be restricted, confirmed the Peronist leader.
Fernández argued that what was currently in place was “not quarantine” but rather “an isolation mechanism for some and distancing for others.”
“Little by little we are opening activities because the economy needs it, but we have to be very careful,” he concluded.
The president also warned about the status of intensive care units (ICUs) nationwide, with emergency care stretched to the limit in some provinces.
"In many of these provinces we notice stress in medical care, hospitals that overflow, therapists that get tired," he said, detailing that ICU bed occupancy stood at 64.6 percent nationwide.
In Neuquén or Mendoza "the level of saturation is always at the limit," he added.
"We have to be vigilant because the risk is still latent," he said, drawing parallels with a second-wave of infections in Europe.
For his part, Rodríguez Larreta announced the reopening of gyms and the inside spaces of restaurants (both restricted to a quarter of their capacity) as well as adequately ventilated swimming-pools, with the contagion curve in the City dipping in recent weeks and the occupation of intensive therapy beds down to 40 percent.
Declaring "the kids are our priority," the City Mayor announced that five-year-olds and first-grade students could return to primary school where the final grade returned to classes this week, as well as the first year of secondary.
Announcing the laxer APSO restrictions for his district, Rodríguez Larreta assured the theatre sector that they would be able to re-open before the year is out.
Rodríguez Larreta closed his address by reiterating his "conviction that consensus and dialogue are the way ahead for Argentina," a nod to the division in the opposition coalition over the country’s lengthy lockdown.
Buenos Aires Province
Speaking from the provincial capital of La Plata where he called a press conference, Kicillof said that if Covid-19 cases continue to decelerate in the province, he would be soon be able to re-open shopping centres (but without food courts) as well as permit more open-air sports and a broader range of private construction along with cultural activities.
Nevertheless, he underlined that the pandemic is far from over while praising the “solidarity” of the people in "resisting one of the worst catastrophes of history."
Kicillof could also not resist hitting out at ex-president Mauricio Macri for “wasting our time with absolutely absurd quarrels” but insisted that he “would not be provoked.”