Argentina’s Health Ministry on Tuesday confirmed a record high of 81,210 cases of Covid-19 over the past 24 hours – surpassing the nation’s highest ever tally by more than 30,000.
Infections nearly doubled from the previous day's high of 44,396, with Health Minister Carla Vizzotti acknowledging that the more contagious Omicron variant is circulating among communities in Argentina.
The previous record high was set just a few days earlier, on December 30, when 50,506 infections in a day were reported.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a total of 5,820,536 confirmed cases have been identified by the authorities, with experts believing the true figure to be much higher.
At present, just over 52 percent of Covid-19 tests are coming back positive – well above the 10 percent set as a reference point by the World Health Organisation and the highest rate since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 154,000 tests were carried out on Monday.
Despite the surge – which experts are calling Argentina’s “third wave” of the pandemic and assign to the community circulation of the Delta and Omicron variants of the virus – deaths and hospitalisations remain low.
According to the Health Ministry, 49 deaths were recorded over the last 24 hours, lifting the local death toll from Covid-19 to 117,294.
As for the number of patients with coronavirus hospitalised in intensive care units (ICUs) throughout the country, that figure stood at 1,218 on Tuesday, with ICU bed occupancy rates reaching 35.9 percent nationwide and 36.7 percent in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA).
As is the norm, Argentina’s most populous region, Buenos Aires Province, recorded the highest number of cases with a whopping 29,485. The province of Córdoba reported 12,363 infections, followed by Buenos Aires City with 11,142.
Reacting to the news, authorities at Buenos Aires City’s Aeroparque Jorge Newbery Airport announced Tuesday that it would only allow passengers to enter its check-in sector, while limiting hours for those seeking to accompany travellers.
Since January 1, Argentina has required citizens and residents to have been vaccinated with at least two doses in order to attend large events or indoor venues, such as nightclubs. For now, the authorities have ruled out the imposition of new restrictions.
During the summer holidays, tens of thousands of tourists have flocked to resorts on the Atlantic coast, such as Mar del Plata, with scenes of crowded beaches and long lines at testing centres.
To date, 72.6 percent of the population in Argentina has received two doses of Covid-19 vaccine, of which 13.2 percent already have a third booster.
Argentina wasn’t the only record-breaker on Tuesday. Elsewhere, the United States, Britain, France and Australia all announced unbeaten highs of daily Covid-19 cases as the WHO warned Tuesday that Omicron's dizzying spread increased the risk of newer, more dangerous variants emerging.
Britain breached 200,000 cases for the first time on Tuesday, Australia posted almost 50,000 and France registered more than 270,000, all three countries easily topping their previous records.
But dwarfing even those numbers was the 1,080,211 reported by the United States on Monday – a global record.
The heavily mutated Omicron variant, the most transmissible to date, accounted for around 59 percent of US cases near the end of last year.
Omicron's rates of deaths and hospitalisations have been lower across the world, raising hopes the virus could be evolving into a relatively benign seasonal illness.
But the World Health Organisation in Europe sounded an ominous note of caution on Tuesday, warning the soaring infection rates could have the opposite effect.
"The more Omicron spreads, the more it transmits and the more it replicates, the more likely it is to throw out a new variant," WHO senior emergencies officer Catherine Smallwood told AFP in an interview.
"Now, Omicron is lethal, it can cause death... maybe a little bit less than Delta, but who's to say what the next variant might throw out," she added.
"Even in well-capacitated, sophisticated health systems there are real struggles that are happening at the moment."