On a chilly winter Wednesday, a lonesome Buenos Aires reverted to the first and most restrictive phase of the quarantine, in a renewed bid to halt the advance of Covid-19.
The capital and its surroundings are returning to measures first imposed on March 20 and there are many worries that Argentina’s economy, in recession since 2018, will continue to be decimated in the process.
"We haven’t caught coronavirus but over 100 days of pandemic will drive us crazy," commented Mirta Blakoviz, 56, a fashion designer who described herself as "virtually unemployed."
Buses circulating with barely half a dozen passengers and a major collapse in the access routes to the city due to controls marked that first day. The authorities aspire to halving traffic in this stage, which will extend at least until July 17.
Face-masks are obligatory and the authorities have promised to intensify testing and the isolation of those infected.
Until now just over two million travel permits for workers in essential activities have been renewed in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires (AMBA in its Spanish acronym), whose population of some 14 million people accounts for over 90 percent of the new cases of Covid-19 in Argentina.
City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta will continue to permit the weekend outings of children in the city but has banned outdoor exercise.
Over half of the intensive therapy beds are occupied (50.5 percent nationwide and 55.5 percent in AMBA) but last week the increase in the metropolitan area was 30 percent, according to the Health Ministry.
Claudia Torres counts herself lucky because her tiny shop selling cold meat, bread, edible oils, flour, pasta and wine remains open. But there were few customers last Wednesday.
"I’ve already had to switch. Beforehand I dedicated myself chiefly to selling pre-packed lunches for the kids in neighbouring schools. But with the classes suspended, I lost all that while now there’s hardly anybody out on the streets so I feel the blow again," she told AFP.
Over 350,000 shops which had re-opened in AMBA (selling items like garments, footwear, furniture and toys) have had to close down again with the return of the sanitary restrictions allowing only food stores and pharmacies to function.
According to a study by the Federación de Comercio e Industria de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (Fecoba), at least 18 percent of the 110,000 shops in the Federal Capital have closed down for good since the pandemic began.
Activities in hotels, gyms, car washes and hairdressers have not been authorised until now while restaurants are only permitted delivery.
With other activities halted like construction, Gross Domestic Product plunged 26.4 percent in April, the strictest month of quarantine. The International Monetary Fund forecasts a slump of 9.9 percent this year for Argentina, placing it among the most affected by the worldwide debacle.
President Alberto Fernández responds to the bad data by insisting that the care of health is primordial.
"The economy is deteriorating but it will recover, what we’re not going to recover are those 1,000 Argentines who have left us,” he said on June 26 when announcing the return of the restrictions.
In Villa 31, one of the capital’s shantytown neighbourhoods (where Covid-19 cases approach five digits while the deaths are close to three digits), Mercedes begs for the disease to be over. In domestic service and the mother of an adolescent, she has not worked for over three months.
"There were many cases in this barrio but not now. Now we all use face-masks because now they believe that the disease is for real. If we carry on like this, we’ll be able to get out soon," she said.