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ARGENTINA | 25-03-2020 19:38

In Quilmes, military steps in to assist food deliveries, hospitals

Army steps in on the outskirts of Buenos Aires in bid to help Argentina's most vulnerable to help curbing the coronavirus pandemic impact on Argentina's most vulnerable persons.

A long line waits for the food delivery, brought in by a military truck. In a poor neighbourhood in Quilmes, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, mandatory isolation is enforced but the cost for citizens is high: supplies are running low and people need food.

"We come out to search for food because we have little [money]. We are in the middle of the month, and a little more – until we get paid the people need it," María Rosa Verdasco tells AFP, as she waits her turn in a line of around a hundred people.

Verdasco, who receives a pension of about 12,000 pesos (US$180) and tops up her salary by taking care of a 97-year-old man at home, says she approves of the obligatory isolation decreed by Alberto Fernández's government to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

To date, Argentina has registered more 500 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with eight fatalities.

"Sometimes you get angry because you can't go out, but when someone dies, that's when you realise that it's nonsense to worry about it," she says.

Pregnant women, children, the elderly, young people respect the suggested one-metre distance as they wait in line by the military truck. In the barrio, the slowdown in economic activity has been felt strongly. Argentina has been gripped by recession for two years, with a subsequent increase in poverty and unemployment.

Carlos Alberto Andrea, 58 years old, was living on changas (small jobs). He washed cars. But everything stopped.

"Today is the first day that I gone out [to look for food]. Everything helps, more in my case that I am unemployed. Today I have nothing at all," he says.

"Nothing can be done, since I can't go out, I have no option of anything," Carlos adds, waiting for his rations of chicken and rice.

A young soldier is in charge of serving up to two to five food packs per person. He is one of 32 uniformed members from the Army's emergency response team currently working with the municipality of Quilmes.

The team is part of the Metropolitan Area Command, one of the 14 emergency zones established by the Ministry of Defence across the country to deal with the virus' peak, which is expected to arrive in a few weeks.

In Quilmes, where some 600,000 people live, the city's authorities buy food for the vulnerable and cook it. The military is providing the trucks to transport the food and is touring neighbourhoods once a day.

Triage hospital

Nearby, at the infamous Campo de Mayo military barracks, located northwest of the capital, the military is also assisting.

The military base – which played host to four clandestine detention centre during Argentina's brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship and was the home of the 1987 Carapintadas mutiny – is now playing host to a temporary hospital, which has allowed for the installation of tens of hospital beds.

"This is a 'triage' hospital. We can attend to a lot of people," Army medic Fabio Monserrat told AFP.

"We are going to have a tent for 100 people so that they are comfortable, and at a distance [away from each other],” he said.

The site will act as a screening zone, using infrared thermometers to test patients and assess if they need to go to hospital or be referred elsewhere. Those who aren't showing symptoms will be sent home.

- TIMES/AFP

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