President Alberto Fernández on Thursday ordered a "preventative and compulsory" lockdown of Argentina's population to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The mandatory quarantine period, announced by the president from the Olivos presidential residence in a televised speech begins midnight tonight, runs until March 31. It is one of the strictest measures taken by any Latin American nation to date to cope with the outbreak.
"We are taking care of the health of Argentines," Fernández said in a televised speech.
Starting Friday, citizens are only permitted to leave their homes for essential services such as trips to supermarkets and pharmacies. The lockdown, which begins midnight tonight, will be enforced by security forces. It lasts until March 31. Warehouses, supermarkets, hardware stores and pharmacies can remain open, but the Gendarmerie and the Police will monitor the streets.
“We’ll be absolutely inflexible in the enforcement,” the Peronist leader declared. “This is an exceptional measure in an exceptional time, within the framework of what democracy allows.”
The president has implemented ever-tougher restrictions in recent days to contain the outbreak. The government had already shut borders, cancelled almost all flights with the exception of repatriations, closed schools and mandated a 14-day quarantine for anyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms or traveling from virus hotspots.
These new measures are similar to those applied in Italy and Spain. A complete lockdown, except for health, security, defence and diplomatic workers, and those who assist elderly or disabled people, as well as those who work in school canteens and community shelters.
Cashpoints at banks, garbage collection, postal and urban public transportation services will remain in operation, with exceptions for their workers too.
As of Thursday, Argentina had three virus-related deaths and 128 confirmed cases. So far, 70 percent of cases are in Greater Buenos Aires.
The Frente de Toros leader acknowledged that the economy will slow down because of the virus, and added that he will announce additional measures to aid workers in the informal sector in upcoming days.
"It is about preventing the contagion rate from accelerating in such a way that the health system cannot attend to it," said Fernández.
According to the World Health Organisation, Argentina has five hospital beds for every 1,000 inhabitants, the second-highest rate in Latin America, after Cuba. The president recently announced the construction of eight modular emergency hospitals.
On Monday, Argentina decreed a two-week suspension of classes in schools and universities, the closing of its borders, and a halt to football tournaments and shows.
In addition, it recommended that companies allow employees to work remotely and that leave be granted to employees aged over 60 or those suffering from chronic illnesses.
The emergency decree declaring a compulsory quarantine to meet the advance of the coronavirus exempts some specific activities, especially those concerned with the supply and safety of the population during the period of preventive isolation.
Below the main exceptions:
- Political leadership: those working in the national, provincial and municipal governments "at the levels of political leadership.”
- Health workers and security forces, including the Armed Forces and federal, provincial and municipal police, as well as firemen.
- The production and sale of food and pharmaceuticals.
- Home delivery of food, medicine, hygiene products, detergents and other needed items.
- A skeleton staff for the judiciary and the diplomatic corps.
- Fuels: those who work in the oil sector including refineries for petrol and diesel.
- Media workers including journalists and photographers.
- People who help other people, including school and community canteens.
- Toiletries, agricultural production and public works are among the exempted sectors.
- Urban public transport but not long-distance buses and domestic flights, which are banned.
- Garbage collection and basic public services.
- Freight transport and service stations.
- Postal services and ATMs will also be working.