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LATIN AMERICA | 28-02-2020 16:10

City government says Buenos Aires is prepared to face coronavirus

Horacio Rodríguez Larreta says no cases of virus have been diagnosed in Argentina, but that all preventative measures have been taken should a case be confirmed.

Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and his Health Minister Fernán Quiroz announced Friday that the City government has "taken absolutely" all the necessary precautions in case preparation for the coronavirus reaching Argentine soil.

 "We already know that Argentina and Buenos Aires do not have any confirmed cases. What we need is preventive measures. Be prepared. We are coordinating with national health authorities," said the City mayor.

The list of countries touched by the illness climbed to nearly 60 on Friday as Mexico, Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Iceland and the Netherlands reported their first cases. Brazil became the first Latin American country to confirm a diagnosis on Wednesday. 

More than 83,000 people worldwide have contracted the illness, with deaths topping 2,800, health officials said Friday.

With headlines continuing to be dominated by the outbreak, City authorities decided to offer a press conference early yesterday morning. Rodríguez Larreta spoke of the importance of staying informed on the disease, and called on the public to disseminate the information shared on precautionary measures.

“You all know that today every porteño has a health centre no more than 15 minutes from his/her home. You can get informed there. ” Larreta said before advising the public to use these resources without hesitation.

Rodríguez Larreta’s comments came shortly after the first documented case of the Covid-19 virus in Latin America was announced on Wednesday in São Paulo, Brazil. 

A 61-year old Brazilian resident returned to the country on February 21 from the Italian region of Lombardy. There are another 20 cases under investigation, said an official from Brazil’s Health Ministry Wanderson Kleber de Oliveira. 

Before confirming the first case in the region, Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta had downplayed the virus, calling it a “flu,” although later he added that because the disease originated in the northern hemisphere winter, there was no way to predict how it would react to a southern hemisphere summer.

Two additional Latin American cases of the virus were confirmed yesterday, both in Mexico. According to the Mexican health authorities, there is one case in Mexico City and one in the northern state of Sinaloa. 

Mexico’s leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador also appeared to downplay the virus, saying “it isn't even equivalent to flu." He continued: “There shouldn't be any yellow journalism, or exaggerations, to cause a mass psychosis of fear, of terror.”

Tension

The tension between needing to keep the public informed and not wanting to cause mass hysteria is also being felt by Argentina’s Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia, who called on citizens to report any flu-like symptom this week, saying that self-reporting was the country’s strongest tool against the disease, but also warning against panic.

Though there have not yet been any documented cases in Argentina, there was a mild scare in El Calafate, and fear of the disease is rising. 

On Tuesday, the government scaled up controls on Tuesday to detect potential cases of the disease on flights from Italy, where at least 800 individuals have been diagnosed with coronavirus. Precautionary measures have kicked in at Ezeiza International Airport, Argentina’s main terminal, to avoid the spread of the disease. Flights from Italy are now landing in a separate area and passengers flying from Italy must have their temperatures taken upon arrival in Argentina and sign an affidavit confirming that they have not felt any symptoms. Suspected patients were also being hospitalised.

Other countries across Latin America have also been taking major precautions to avoid the spread of disease. 

Peru has maintained a team of specialists working at Jorge Chávez International Airport, and passengers with possible symptoms are being transferred to an isolation ward in a nearby hospital. A handful of hospitals are being prepared to receive patients, and the Health Ministry maintains that these hospitals are equipped to diagnose cases of the virus within 24 hours. 

Puerto Rico, Paraguay, El Salvador, Panama, Guatemala, Colombia, and Chile have all taken preventive measures.

According to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, US, there are now over 83,000 documented cases of Coronavirus, the vast majority of which are concentrated in mainland China. South Korea has the second-largest outbreak with about 2,000 documented cases, and Italy has the largest known outbreak outside Asia. 

- TIMES/AFP/AP/NA

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