Argentina reported 50,506 Covid cases on Thursday – a record high since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cases in the country have been rising at an alarming rate since mid-December as the circulation of the more contagious Omicron variant increases. The new record high was a rise of more than 8,000 infections from the previous day, around two-and-a-half times higher than recorded last Monday and 10 times more than the 5,000 infections reported at the end of November.
Over the last seven days, Argentina has recorded the 10th highest number of confirmed cases worldwide, according to AFP.
Over the past few days, long queues of people have been forming outside hospitals and testing centres around the nation’s capital, Buenos Aires, as porteños braved sweltering temperatures to wait in line for testing.
Infections are rising as the circulation of the more contagious Omicron variant increases, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti confirmed at a press conference on Wednesday, speaking at a time when case counts globally are near records.
"The transmission dynamics have changed with the Omicron variant. There is an exponential increase in cases, but that does not translate into an increase in hospitalisations or mortality," she confirmed.
On Thursday, 35 deaths were registered – the same tally as a month ago. It's all a long way from last May, when daily infections were topping 41,000 and fatalities were averaging 500 a day.
Health authorities attribute the low mortality rate to the progress of the vaccination campaign that began a year ago.
Entering the New Year in the midst of the exponential rise in cases, Argentina’s government will introduce a new Covid health pass starting January 1. Citizens and residents will have to show proof that they are fully vaccinated in order to attend discos, nightclubs and events in enclosed spaces, events for more than 1,000 people in open spaces and group trips for students or retirees. Authorities hope the need for certification will encourage outliers to get jabbed.
The government has now eased most coronavirus restrictions and it began allowing foreign tourists back into the country on November 1.
President Alberto Fernández said this week fresh health restrictions would not be re-imposed, despite the staggering rise in cases.
"We have extended [the presidential decree declaring a] the health emergency, but there will be no new measures," the Peronist leader said on Tuesday. "If the problem of new infections is not so serious, it is because Argentines were responsible and got vaccinated.”
To date, Argentina has fully vaccinated more than 73 percent of its population – one of the highest inoculation rates in Latin America – and the government is now encouraging citizens to take a third ‘booster’ shot, with just over 12 percent already having received one. Around 11 percent (mostly children and adolescents, who were called to be immunised later) have received only one dose.
“Thanks to our high number of vaccinated people, we’re seeing an exponential increase in cases, but that hasn’t led to higher mortality or emergency hospitalisations,” Vizzotti said. “We were able to delay the arrival of the Delta variant so much that we managed to avoid a wave – and now, we’re going through the third wave.”
New quarantine rules
The government announced Wednesday that it has reduced the period of compulsory isolation from ten to seven days for individuals infected with Covid-19 who have been fully vaccinated.
According to the new rules, people who test positive for Covid and who are fully vaccinated will have to remain isolated for a week, while for those who are vaccinated and are in close contact with an infected person but do not have symptoms, the period will be five days.
The mandatory quarantine period will remain 10 days for infected individuals and close contacts who have not received two vaccine shots. These people will also have to undergo a PCR test at the end of their isolation period.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, 5.6 million people in Argentina have been infected and just over 117,000 have died.