In a televised press conference, President Alberto Fernández on Friday announced the extension of Argentina’s general quarantine until Sunday, May 24.
Fernández said the country had managed to “successfully” contain the coronavirus pandemic, but stressed the crisis was far from over.
On Friday, the Health Ministry said that 240 new cases of Covid-19 had been recorded – the highest number yet in a single day. That lifted the total number of infected in Argentina to 5,611. To date, there have been 293 fatalities.
The president said he wanted "to normalise [everything] as soon as possible, but without putting people at risk."
Fernández decreed a 15-day period of compulsory social isolation on March 20 in response to the pandemic and has been extending it every two weeks.
Measures have been relaxed in some rural areas, but they remain strict in urban centres, especially the Greater Buenos Aires region, where a third of the country's population lives.
The president, speaking on the 50th day of “social, preventive and compulsory isolation,” said that Argentina would enter the newest phase of his “managed quarantine” period, which would see the "progressive reopening" of economic activity in the country, implying a greater level of flexibility in some provinces.
Under the new rules, which will be issued imminently by decree, up to 75 percent of the inhabitants in some provinces will be allowed to return to work, though governors will be given the power to decide which activities are approved. Existing bans on school classes, large events and border controls will remain in place nationwide.
However, the exception to the new rules, the president said, was Greater Buenos Aires, Covid-19’s hotspot in the country. Officials said this week that around 70 percent of all infections have been registered in Buenos Aires City and Province.
The number of confirmed cases registered in Argentina was doubling every 25.1 days, the president revealed, while in just Greater Buenos Aires, he added, the figure was closer to 18.8 days.
"We cannot go out foolish and crazy, to the detriment of the people," said the Peronist leader, speaking at a press conference at the Olivos presidential residence, where he was flanked by Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof.
Fernández called on all citizens to take responsibility in the fight against the pandemic, expressing his “enormous pride" at the way people had handled the extreme situation.
Argentina had just 0.3 percent of all Covid-19 cases in the Americas, he said, describing the situation as “fairly controlled” compared to nations like Ecuador, Brazil and Chile.
Criticism of opposition
Opposition parties, economists and business leaders all stepped up demands this week for the government to relax strict quarantine measures to allow industries to reopen.
Fernández lashed out at his critics in his address, demanding that they “lie no more,” saying he wouldn’t bend to attempts to “twist my arm.”
"There are opponents who govern and others who do not govern, who on Twitter call, with great recklessness, for people to be careless," said the head of state.
He noted that Rodríguez Larreta’s presence alongside him was evidence that many in the opposition agree with him on the quarantine.
"The most conflictive place we have is the AMBA [Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area], and those who are by my side think the same as I do," declared the president.
Speaking on Wednesday, Fernández said that lifting the lockdown entirely would “lead to the death of thousands."
Exiting the quarantine "in the terms they [the opposition] are demanding, will lead to the death for thousands Argentines because we cannot control" the virus, the president told Radio Con Vos.
"You cannot quarantine and make the economy work. Those who chose to prioritise the economy ended up gathering the dead in refrigerated trucks and burying them in mass graves," said the Peronist leader.
The lockdown is having a dramatic impact on Argentina’s economy, which has been rocked by 50 percent inflation and rising numbers of poor and jobless during the last two years of recession.