Fears over the spread of the Omicron variant swept through Córdoda Province on Friday after local health authorities revealed that a man suspected of being infected with the strain had likely passed it on to at least eight others.
An Argentine who tested positive for coronavirus set off health alarms in the region last week after returning to the country from Dubai, where he now lives. The individual, who was born in Córdoda and is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, was travelling back to Colonia Caroya to spend the holidays with his family.
According to unnamed sources cited by the Noticias Argentinas news agency, he entered Argentina on Thursday, December 2 with a negative PCR test.
However, on Saturday he began to show symptoms and, after being tested again, he was found to be positive.
Since his arrival, he has participated in family and social gatherings. Eight others in his inner circle have also now been found to be infected, sparking fears that the strain could begin spreading rapidly.
"We have identified a partial strain, which corresponds to the Omicron variant, but confirmation has to come from the [ANLIS] Malbrán Institute. It is likely that it is. The samples were sent today," Laura López, provincial director of epidemiology, told the Cadena 3 radio station.
"He entered with two doses of vaccines, a negative PCR and did not face isolation restriction, so he did not violate any current regulations. He did have a responsible attitude: at the first sign of symptoms he was tested and informed his close contacts," said López.
Argentina confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant – the new strain which is sparking renewed fears and travel restrictions across the globe – last weekend, following in the footsteps of Brazil and Chile.
National health authorities confirmed that a 38-year-old man from San Luis Province, who is fully vaccinated, had tested positive for the new strain.
The individual returned to the country on November 30, after visiting South Africa for an event, Argentina’s Health Ministry confirmed in a statement, which added that the patient had travelled via the United States.
Despite being asymptomatic and having tested negative twice prior to arrival in Argentina, the individual contacted his local authorities after learning that others who had attended the event in South Africa had subsequently been diagnosed with Covid-19.
This time, antigen and PCR tests both came back positive, and genomic sequencing showed the virus to be of the Omicron variety.
The infected person, who has no symptoms, had had a previous coronavirus infection.
Provincial Health Minister Silvia Sosa Araujo told the press that it was the “only case” in the region, noting that the individual had “complied with all the protocols.” The man "does not have any symptoms, not even a headache," she added.
“The most important thing is that he moved in a private car because he entered the province in a remis [a private pre-booked car service]” she added, confirming that the 38-year-old had already had Covid in March 2021.
Both the provincial and national health ministers urged the population to remain on high alert and continue taking preventive measures.
Argentina's Covid-19 cases have picked up this week after months of decline. On Friday, the Health Ministry reported 3,573 cases over the preceding 24 hours, along with 29 fatalities.
Speaking last Sunday, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti admitted that Omicron's arrival in Argentina was "inevitable" yet she ruled out a national mandate enforcing that all citizens be vaccinated.
“It is inevitable that Omicron will arrive in the country and continue to spread," said the minister, who encouraged citizens to ensure they get both doses of Covid vaccine.
Addressing the new strain, Vizzotti said that most experts were foreseeing that "cases will increase but not hospitalisations and deaths." She said she could not predict if the strain would become dominant in Argentina.
Ruling out mandatory vaccinations for all citizens, the minister said that Argentina’s numbers are “very good” at the moment.
“The idea is not to make vaccination compulsory but to advance, because the numbers are very good in Argentina, where 80 percent of population coverage has been exceeded with one dose and we’ve reached 65 percent with both doses,” she said.
“In adolescents, more than 70 percent with one [dose] and we reached 50 percent with two [doses]; whereas among girls and boys between three and 11 years old, we have 55 percent with two doses,” she concluded.
Argentina, a country of 45 million people, has registered more than 5.3 million coronavirus cases and over 116,700 deaths.
Over two-thirds of the population is fully vaccinated.