Just hours before Argentina surpassed five million coronavirus infections, President Alberto Fernández announced Friday that the government would loosen Covid-19 restrictions with a plan of "sustained and progressive re-openings."
“Today we see a new horizon,” declared the president in a 12-minute pre-recorded address from the Casa Rosada, attributing the improved outlook to an acceleration in the government's mass vaccination plan.
The new stage of restrictions, which the Peronist leader described as “responsible,” will be introduced later today via presidential decree.
Notably, Fernández also said that Argentina’s economy is expected to grow better than anticipated thanks to a “recovery of activities.” He forecast that gross domestic product would rise by seven percent this year (from the previous year) and by 4.5 percent in 2022.
Vaccinations and infections
Addressing the nation, Fernández said that the "priority is to increase the percentage of second doses" given to adults this month, while underlining that adolescents aged between 12 and 18 years old with risk factors would continue receiving their first dose.
According to the government’s Public Vaccination Monitor on Friday, so far 25.4 million people (80 percent of those over 18 years of age and 57 percent of the total population) have received at least their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, of which almost eight million (17.6 percent of all residents and foreign citizens) have completed their schedule.
"The more we vaccinate and look after ourselves, the more we can sustain our successes and progressively advance in relaxing [restrictions]," affirmed Fernández.
The announcement came just hours before the Health Ministry confirmed that Argentina had surpassed five million Covid-19 infections since the start of the pandemic.
In its daily update, the portfolio said that 13,549 new cases of coronavirus and another 190 deaths had been reported over the last 24 hours, lifting the nation’s cumulative totals to 5,002,951 confirmed cases and 107,213 fatalities.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in Argentina, some 17 months ago, more than 4.6 million have recovered from the virus, with 251,943 still suffering with the disease.
The Health Ministry said that the number of people in intensive care units had dropped to 3,657 nationwide, with bed occupancy rates at 52.4 percent, rising to 58.3 percent in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA).
The new round of relaxation comes after 10 weeks of declining cases of contagion and eight weeks with a lower death rate and entries into intensive care wards, the president announced. For the last three weeks no urban centre has been in a state of epidemiological alert, he added.
“As from tomorrow we will gradually increase the number of people who can meet, extending to classroom education, which is to be followed jointly by the Health Ministry and the Federal Education Council,” he announced, adding that the next phase of the plan would be “progressively to increase permitted public attendance at outdoor mass events, including sports activities and concerts.”
The next phase would also extend to permitting group trips by the elderly provided that they are all completely vaccinated, as well as clearing tourism for completely vaccinated persons in zones of the country not in a state of epidemiological alert. To encourage such activity, he announced that the ‘Pre Viaje’ programme, introduced some months ago by the government, would be relaunched next week.
The next stage would further include opening up the frontiers to completely vaccinated foreign tourists, "starting with the countries of the region," he said.
"Vaccination is the best economic policy," insisted Fernández.
Before announcing the new measures for progressive relaxation, Fernández highlighted Argentina’s public health situation thanks to the advances in the vaccination campaign and measures permitting “the entry of the Delta variant into our country to be delayed.”
On the economic front Fernández said: "Some economic sectors are at a similar level or better off than in 2019" while saying that he aspired to the recovery already underway in industry and construction (+22.4 percent and 61.6 percent respectively by comparison with the first half of last year) being transferred to sectors like tourism and leisure.
According to Health Minister Carla Vizzotti, the parameters for defining states of epidemiological alert for urban centres of over 300,000 inhabitants will be:
An occupancy of intensive care beds superior to 80 percent.
An increase in the patients going into intensive care wards due to Covid-19 superior to 20 percent as against the previous week.
Individual precautions will also remain in force such as a minimum distance of two metres between persons, the use of face-masks, the constant ventilation of rooms and frequent hand-washing.
Activities permitted nationwide will be the following:
Sporting, social, cultural, recreational and religious activities and events, including cinemas, theatres, clubs, restaurants, cultural centres, gyms, casinos and bingo halls with 70 percent seating.
Attending day centres and clubs for the elderly up to a capacity of 70 percent for those completely vaccinated against Covid-19 14 days or more beforehand.
Social meetings in private homes up to 20 people.
Excursions and tourist activities according to the extant protocols and norms and exclusively in transport permitting proper ventilation.
Public meetings and activities up to 100 people.
Local authorities will have the right to reduce admission according to the epidemiological and health parameters.
The following activities are permitted nationwide:
Mass events whether artistic, musical, social or sporting up to 1,000 people.
Social meetings in private homes up to 10 people indoors and up to 20 outdoors.
Outdoor public activities and social meetings up to 100 people.
The Buenos Aires City Mayor may impose temporary and specific restrictions in places under his jurisdiction according to epidemiological conditions.