President Alberto Fernández announced Sunday night that schools in Argentina will close until March 31 in a bid to half the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
He also the country would close its borders to all incoming visitors, with the exception of residents in Argentina seeking to travel home.
Speaking at a press conference from the Olivos presidential residence – flanked by Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof – Fernández said that all classes would be suspended for the next two weeks, with immediate effect. Kindergarten, primary and secondary schools will all be shuttered, he confirmed.
Universities are not affected by the measures, although many have already suspended classes and shifted to remote teaching online.
"We have made the decision to suspend classes from tomorrow [Monday] until March 31, in order to minimise the movement of children and thus the virus," said the Peronist leader.
He also clarified that some educational institutions that have "collateral obligations such as feeding children" would remain open for those functions only.
In the poorest areas of the country, some children have their only regular plate of food a day at schools.
Fernández also announced the closure of the borders for non-resident foreigners, though he said visitors to the country seeking to return to their countries of origin would not face an impediment in returning home.
"We have closed the borders of Argentina because the coronavirus is beginning to affect neighbouring countries and because tourists who come from risk areas arrive at land borders," he explained.
The Frente de Todos leader also said that sporting events and music shows would also be suspended. Cinemas and theatre, as well as national parks across the country, will be obliged to be closed.
He clarified that football matches may continue to be played behind closed doors, as happened this weekend.
Fernández also said that all individuals aged over 65 – the age group most at risk from Covid-19 – should stay at home, with those still working given a "licence" to avoid travelling to work.
"We are going to ask them to stay in their homes," he declared.
He also announced that banks and health centres would start offering time periods reserved exclusively for those over the age of 65, to avoid contagion.
"People do not have to fear supply [of food] or the potential closure of businesses because that is not what we are anticipating," said Fernández.
Despite speculation – prompted by comments from the president during radio interviews – that the government would seek to put all Argentines under quarantine for 10 days, obliging them to stay at home, Fernández said that was not on the cards for now.
The president said that the government's Economic and Social Council will meet on Monday to analyse measures to alleviate the restriction of economic activity in Argentina.
Any disruption is likely to make a significant impact on the country, with the economy having been locked in recession since mid-2018, with poverty and unemployment on the rise.
Fernández also said that attempts would be made to "decrease traffic" in Buenos Aires and its surroundings starting Monday. Roughly 15 million people live in Greater Buenos Aires, with the president saying that 70 percent of those infected to date live in the region.
The president cautioned, however, that these were pre-emptive measures against the coronavirus pandemic, which to date has killed more than 5,000 people across the globe.
"These measures do not suppose any worsening of the situation. We can avoid growth being exponential and allow the health system to respond," he declared.
Fernández also warned that his government "will be inflexible" with those who do not comply with the mandatory enforced quarantine – 14 days – for those who have returned to Argentina from so-called "affected areas."
Government officials also confirmed Sunday night that the number of people infected with the virus in Argentina had risen to 56, with two deaths recorded to date.
All cases, at the time of writing, involved individuals who had recently returned from overseas or had come into close contact with those who are confirmed to have the virus.
"If people don't circulate, the virus doesn't either," the president said, in a radio interview earlier Sunday.
Speaking at the press conference, the president warned that Argentines should remain calm. "We need to fight the pandemic – and the psychosis,” he concluded.