Argentina registered more than 9,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, pushing the total number of infections to date past the 400,000-barrier.
The country surpassed the landmark just a day after President Alberto Fernández announced an extension of the lockdown until September 20, as part of a move to tackle the spread of the virus in Argentina. In total, 401,226 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Argentina since March.
The Health Ministry also said that 82 individuals had lost their lives on Saturday, lifting the death toll to 8,353. A total of 287,220 have recovered since their diagnosis was confirmed, according to official data.
As the number of infections surges in Argentina, fears are starting to grow about the capacity of the country's health system. Officials said that bed occupancy in intensive care units (ICUs) had risen to 60.6 percent nationwide, with the figure rising to 68.7 percent in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA), where the overwhelming majority of cases have been registered.
Paying tribute to the nation's essential workers, the National Culture Ministry on Saturday lit up the historic Cabildo just off the Plaza de Mayo, projecting photographs of doctors, nurses and carers onto its facade with a simple message that read: "Gracias." A statement from the portfolio said that the move was an attempt "to honour the culture of solidarity" illustrated every day by healthcare workers, who have been central to the fight against Covid-19.
"Every day and every night, since the beginning of this pandemic, thousands of workers in Argentina have dedicated themselves to the task of providing their services, putting their lives at risk with the purpose of taking care of all of us and continuing to support the country," read a statement from the Culture Ministry, which also paid tribute to "the cultural workers who share their art and creations so that we can get through through this moment in the best way. "
On Friday, President Alberto Fernández announced an extension of the lockdown and existing anti-virus measures until September 20, following a surge in cases over recent weeks. Last week, Argentina recorded more than 10,000 confirmed cases on three consecutive days.
Nevertheless, the Peronist leader did say that his government would authorise social gatherings of up to 10 people across the country, provided the meetings took place outdoors, with at least two metres of distance between individuals. The use of face masks will be mandatory, while meetings in enclosed spaces are still prohibited.
Fernández expressed concern over the exponential increase in cases in some regions, especially the northern province of Jujuy, where the health system is "at the limit," according to the Frente de Todos leader.
"A month and a half ago 93 percent of new cases were in the AMBA [region]. In the other provinces it was only seven percent. Now in the provinces that percentage has multiplied by five – today it represents 37 percent of cases" daily, he said.
Changes to measures have also been introduced in Buenos Aires City, the nation's capital, with restaurants and bars allowed to begin serving up to four people at tables seated outside establishments from this Monday.
Thousands of people, encouraged by hardline opposition leaders, staged rallies last week across the country against both the government and the quarantine measures. The demonstrations were criticised by the government and health experts, who expressed concern that the protests were taking place just as the country records its highest infection figures of the crisis to date.