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ARGENTINA | 24-09-2021 21:52

Regional governments express unease at rolling back of facemask rules

The use of facemasks outdoors will no longer be mandatory in Argentina as from October 1, with gradual reopening of borders also on way.

At least three regional governments in Argentina are not planning to immediately adhere to the Casa Rosada’s planned relaxation of coronavirus restrictions, especially those regarding the use of facemasks while outdoors, with several others contemplating similar action.

Officials from the provinces of Córdoba and Salta, as well as the Buenos Aires City government, have said in recent days that they do not support a move to remove the obligation for citizens to use face coverings while outside, considering it to be too early. A number of others – including the provinces of Río Negro, Jujuy and Mendoza – are also considering whether to follow suit.

Argentina’s government on Wednesday announced a dramatic loosening of Covid restrictions starting next month, following a continued decline in confirmed cases and Covid-related fatalities. Underlining the extent of the improvement since virus cases peaked in April, Health Ministry officials said that 12 provinces nationwide and Buenos Aires City had not reported a single Covid-related death over the preceding 24 hours.

On Wednesday, Buenos Aires City is the latest in a string of regional governments to express unease at a relaxation in Covid restrictions, which some in the opposition have alleged is a response to win back the favour of voters ahead of the November midterm elections. 

Speaking on Wednesday, City Health Minister Fernán Quirós said that “it is not yet the moment" for porteños to stop wearing facemasks.

"We believe that it is not yet the time to remove the chinstrap," said the official in the Buenos Aires City government led by Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.

"We know that in open spaces, contagiousness is much lower, but in the City we intend to reach 70 percent of the population with two doses of [Covid-19] vaccine before taking this type of measure,” Quirós said in an interview with local station Radio Con Vos. 

"We are going to see day-by-day and week-by-week in these next 10 days in which we hope to pass this step [to reach 70 percent vaccination]. From there we are going to propose to the public what we recommend and what is the best way to take care of ourselves,” said Quirós. “What we say is that for now we continue with the facemask a little more – we are very close to reaching the milestone.”

The minister also warned any move to relax the use of the facemask should not be accompanied by a lack of wider care.

“We have a threat ahead of us, which is the Delta variant, which should increase cases, " he warned, stressing that openings should be staggered. 

By Friday, however, Quirós said rules on facemasks could change “in the first days of October.”

Salta Province Health Minister Juan José Esteban said this week that the "measures are too early," as he decried the lack of consultation from national officials beforehand.

In ​​Córdoba Province, local authorities announced Wednesday that the “mandatory use of facemasks” would remain in place. 

According to reports on Friday, a number of other regional governments – including Río Negro, Jujuy and Mendoza – are waiting to see what modifications the government makes to the original decree introducing the rules before deciding what to do next.

 

NEW RULES

Speaking at a press conference, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti and new Cabinet Chief Juan Manzur said midweek that Argentina 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," she said. "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.

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 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.

 

Boost pockets

The government is preparing a series of announcements in the coming weeks aimed at boosting economic activity and getting more cash into the pockets of citizens.

According to reports from the Noticias Argentinas news agency, President Alberto Fernández and Economy Minister Martín Guzmán have decided on a strategy of “good news every day” – essentially that announcements will be drip fed into the public sphere in the build-up to the November 14 midterm elections.

Currently under discussion are plans to unveil new economic measures, progress with talks with the International Monetary Fund and steps outlined in the 2022 Budget. 

Sources inside the Economy Ministry said that steps will be taken to boost purchasing power and consumption with key strategies, such as endorsing the reopening of public works projects.

Announcements aimed at the retired and other measures are also on the cards.

 

– TIMES/NA/PERFIL

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