Argentina on Friday recorded its highest daily death toll of the coronavirus pandemic to date for the second day running, with a record 557 fatalities over the last 24 hours.
The figure means that 61,176 individuals in the country have now lost their lives to Covid-19 since last March, underlining the deadliness of the so-called second wave.
Health Ministry officials also confirmed 27,884 new cases over the preceding 24 hours. A total of 2,824,652 coronavirus infections have been registered in Argentina since the start of the pandemic.
Once again, Buenos Aires Province led the list of most-affected regions, with 14,223 new cases. Buenos Aires City was next with 2,929, followed by the provinces of Córdoba (1,850) and Santa Fe (1,928).
The news arrives with hospital staff appealing to citizens to take greater care and reduce circulation of the virus. A number of politicians also voiced concerns this week that more restrictions need to be imposed in order to tackle the virus crisis and protect the health system.
In an interview with CNN's Spanish-language arm on Friday, Dr. Célica Irrazabal, head of intensive care at the Hospital de Clínicas José de San Martín in Recoleta, said Friday that her institution's ICU ward was at "100 percent" capacity, following an “avalanche” of Covid-19 patients this week.
“For a few days we have had to suspend scheduled surgeries. We do not know for how long, but we have had to reduce surgeries with the risk," she explained. “This week suddenly an avalanche of patients arrived and we had to respond to everything. Work is being done so that people do not feel that their treatment is going to harm their health."
“Patients with Covid who enter [intensive care] have many days of intervention and are not there for less than three weeks. A bottleneck is generated and on top of that, the [number of] health personnel we have is limited,” said Irrazabal.
Warnings about the state of Argentina’s health system are escalating, with fears of a collapse growing.
"It is not uncommon to see patients in an ambulance touring hospitals for a bed," said Marcelo Melo, the director of the same hospital, earlier this week.
"If you want to avoid the total collapse of the health system, you have to lower contagion and the only way is with restrictive measures," he said, referring to tightened restrictions.
‘The virus has not gone away’
Speaking at an event in Rosario on Friday, President Alberto Fernández said that the country must take extra precautions, "no matter how much it weighs on us after a year" battling the virus. "The virus has not gone away," he stressed, saying it had "returned with more vigilance."
Concerns about the spread of the virus and the nation’s creaking health system were also expressed by Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof.
"In an emergency there is no room for a boycott, there is no room for politicking and there is no room for the electoral campaign," he said, warning that the "private health system is at the limit."
Slamming the opposition as irresponsible for their opposition to tighter restrictions, Kicillof said "nobody likes" imposing measures that limit freedoms, arguing both national and regional governments had no choice.
On Wednesday, health ministers from across the country used a meeting of the Federal Health Council to sound the alarm over the rising number of Covid-19 cases and call for "timely measures" to be implemented. Describing the request for new "temporary, intensive and focused" restrictions, regional ministers said they were concerned by rising mortality rates and fears they could worsen.
Opposition leader Patricia Bullrich, however, on Thursday criticised the president as she filed an appeal against the most recent round of restrictions.
"The Government cannot pretend to remedy its lack of action with decrees of necessity and urgency and new closures that, judging by the time remaining for Argentina to reach the so-called ‘herd immunity,’ could be extended by considerably longer than the 15 days foreseen.”
"It is not understood why the government estimates that the solution to the problem of infections will be reached within 15 days of isolation, when it did not achieve that within almost a year,” she added.
Argentina’s mass vaccination campaign is making progress, though the government has found it hard to acquire all the vaccines it has ordered.
This week officials began distributing 654,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V shot to regions across the country. The national government is also expecting to take delivery of more than a million doses of China's Sinopharm jab in the coming days, which will lift the total number of vaccines received to 9.9 million.
To date, 6,951,810 shots have been applied in Argentina to date, with 8,701,508 distributed throughout the country. A total of 6,086,171 have received their first jab, with 865,639 having completed the process.
A total of 86,860 tests were carried out over the last 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry. More than 10.6 million have been conducted since the start of the pandemic.