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ARGENTINA | 23-05-2020 22:30

Government extends quarantine for 15 more days amid rise in infections

President Fernández announces Argentina will extend government's mandatory social isolation until June 7, amid an acceleration in the spread of the new Covid-19 coronavirus.

President Alberto Fernández announced Saturday evening that Argentina was extending his government's mandatory social isolation order until Sunday, June 7, amid an acceleration in the spread of the novel Covid-19 coronavirus.

Confirmed cases in Buenos Aires have increased fivefold in the last two weeks, particularly in the overcrowded villas of the capital.

"We are going to extend the quarantine until June 7 inclusive. The cases grew excessively in the barrios populares [popular neighbourhoods] of Buenos Aires. In the rest of the city, the contagion grew 100 percent," said Fernández in a press conference on Saturday.

"The place of greatest conflict continues to be AMBA," said the head of state, referring to Buenos Aires City and the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. 

The capital and its surroundings areas account for 87.5 percent of all Argentina's Covid-19 cases, which this Saturday rose to a total of 11,340, with 445 deaths.

"There is a very clear concentration in the barrios populares. Now we are going to work basically for them. We are going to increase the amount of testing and with that we will increase the cases," said Fernández, also citing concerns in poor neighbourhoods in Chaco, Córdoba and parts of Buenos Aires Province.

Some officials have warned Argentina may register more than 1,000 new cases every day in the coming week.

"In this we are without antecedent [to rely on[, because in Europe or in the United States there are no barrios populares like those in Argentina or Latin America. We need their inhabitants to trust us," said the president.

"The virus is not looking for us, we are looking for the virus," he declared.

Fernández said that in this new stage of the lockdown, authorities would reinforce controls on movement so that only workers for essential services could use public transport in Greater Buenos Aires.

City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta said that children in the capital would still be allowed to leave their homes with their parents, within a radius of 500 metres from their homes, for recreational outings on weekends. Shops in local neighbourhoods will also still be allowed to open.

The Juntos por el Cambio leader said "large commercial centres" and shopping malls would continue to be shuttered as a preventative measure, with "neighbourhood trade" encouraged. He added he was "proud" of the way porteños had taken to wearing face masks on every trip outside their homes.

Argentina entered a compulsory nationwide lockdown on March 20 and that measure has been extended repeatedly. Two weeks ago, flexibility was authorised in some provinces that are not reporting new cases.

Over the last two months, the government has acquired medical equipment to equip the healthcare system for the crisis and installed a number of temporary field hospitals to cope with cases and isolate those confirmed with Covid-19.

In Buenos Aires City, only 15 percent of intensive care beds with artificial respirators are occupied at the moment, said Rodríguez Larreta.

President Fernández, however, that if the surge in infections continues, the health system will struggle to cope.

"We see how Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador are suffering a lot. I hope we can get through this time with as little pain as possible," said the Peronist leader.

According to the World Health Organisation, South America is now the "new epicentre" of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fernández noted that on Friday, as many as 19 provinces did not present any new cases, and another 10 have not registered new infections for a week. In those places, economic activity has recovered up to 80 percent, he claimed.

Argentina, which has been gripped by recession for two years ago, has seen economic activity plummet during the quarantine period. March's GDP data, which featured just 10 days of the lockdown, showed a 11.5 percent slump compared to the same month in 2019.

The most recent Central Bank survey forecast that Argentina's economy would shrink by more than seven percent this year.

The government committing billions of pesos to social support measures, including an emergency payment to vulnerable members of the population and state assistance to private firms to pay wages.

President Fernández said such measures would continue. "We will spare no effort from the State to continue help," he declared.

While it attempts to tackle the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak, the government is also seeking to restructure more than US$65 billion in foreign debt.

– TIMES/AFP

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