Argentina registered a new record number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, hitting 134,439 new infections over the last 24 hours.
Despite the surge, however, officials said that the country, which has been ravaged by the Delta and Omicron variants since December, would now relax compulsory isolation rules for those who have received a third 'booster' shot of coronavirus vaccine.
"This is a completely different stage to the previous wave, not only in Argentina but in the world. We have 85 percent of the population with one dose and 74 percent with two doses, with 60 percent of health teams and 40 percent of those over 60 with booster doses," said Health Minister Carla Vizzotti at a press conference as she made the announcement.
Under new guidelines, those who have received three doses of vaccine and do not show symptoms of Covid-19 will be exempted from isolation if they are close contacts of a positive person, Vizotti confirmed. Previously, such individuals were due to enter isolation for five days.
Unvaccinated people, those who received only one dose or those who were vaccinated before August will have to be isolated for 10 days if they are found to be close contacts of someone who is infected. Those who are vaccinated with two doses will only have to be isolated for three to five days if they are are considered a close contact, though they will have to undergo an antigen test before day five to exit their individual quarantine, said the minister.
The new rules are recommendations, stressed Vizzotti, who said that provincial and regional governments would be able to have the final say.
Earlier this week, the influential Argentine Industrial Union (Unión Industrial Argentina) business lobby called on the government to adjust existing measures, saying that absenteeism among its 80,000 affiliated workers had risen to 7.5 percent as a result of rules related to close contacts. Absenteeism is also on the rise among healthcare professionals.
"Instead of worrying about intensive care beds, we are concerned about absenteeism," Vizzotti said in a radio interview on Tuesday.
"In terms of isolation, we are seeing that there is a major impact on the health system and essential services," she added. "The recommendation is that all people who are asymptomatic close contacts [of someone infected] minimise social activities, which is where the evidence shows that most contagion occurs."
With a population of 45 million, Argentina has to date recorded more than 6.5 million cases of Covid-19, and almost 117,600 deaths. Tuesday's death toll was 52.
The government says that although the country is experiencing a spike in the number of cases – numbers have risen from around 5,000 a day at the end of December to more than 134,000 on Tuesday – this has not translated into more deaths.
Intensive care bed occupancy has slowly increased over the past few weeks and stands at 40 percent nationwide
In the middle of the summer holiday season, with millions of Argentines travelling to the main tourist resorts, testing stations continue to be overwhelmed due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.