Government officials have warned Argentines to take care after the country on Friday reported its highest number of Covid infections in a single day for three months.
On Friday evening, the National Health Ministry reported 5,648 new cases of Covid-19 – the highest daily figure since September 1. More than 2,000 were in Buenos Aires Province, with 1,097 in Buenos Aires City and 941 in Córdoba Province.
It was the second day running that infections had topped 5,000, with similarly high tallies recorded on Tuesday (4,556 new cases) and Wednesday (5,301). Officials are concerned those numbers may soar even further over the festive season.
Fatalities, however, have remained low. Officials said 18 had been recorded over the last 24 hours, lifting the death toll since the start of the pandemic to 116,892.
Occupancy of intensive care units stands at 35.5 percent nationwide and at 39 percent in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA).
Speaking at a press conference this week, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti called on citizens and residents to take up the offer of booster jabs as soon as possible, in order to reduce the number of hospitalisations and deaths.
“We have been saying since day one that the pandemic has not passed. Vaccines are a key tool but it will not prevent cases from increasing alone,” warned the health official, who said Argentines should be careful during end-of-year festivities.
According to official data, a total of 72.8 million vaccines have been applied in Argentina. Around 37.5 million people have received a single dose, with 31.6 million having received two.
National Deputy Daniel Gollán on Wednesday called on citizens to do “much more” in terms of preventative measures as he expressed concern over the rise in cases and the Delta and Omicron strains of the virus.
“If we don't comply with these basic premises, we are losing a tool that prevents a lot of transmission," the former Buenos Aires Province health minister said in a radio interview.
"Everyone should finish vaccination with the second and third doses because they provide coverage and it is the only thing we have at hand."
A number of national and provincial officials have expressed concerns over the potential spread of both the Delta and Omicron variants of Covid-19.
Corrientes Province Senator Martín Barrionuevo observed on Tuesday that there had been a 63 percent increase in infections over the last 14 days.
The lawmaker, who throughout the pandemic published reports and graphs on the crisis on his social media accounts, said that in Buenos Aires Province and City infection rates had risen 65 and 86 percent respectively over the past fortnight.
The Buenos Aires City Health Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that it was investigating "two suspected cases of the Ómicron variant," traced to infected individuals who travelled to the United States "during late November and early December."
Argentina’s first positive case of the Omicron variant has now been traced back to a resident of San Luis Province, who arrived back in the country 10 days ago after a trip to South Africa, according to the National Health Ministry.
However, the main outbreak of the more contagious strain is now in Córdoba Province, where four graduation parties at different schools in the capital have resulted in 110 positive cases and 800 individuals ordered to isolate.
Provincial Health Minister Diego Cardozo said Tuesday that "the characteristics of the genome” in the positive tests were “compatible with the Omicron variant."
At least four cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the town of Colonia Caroya, close contacts of an individual who had recently travelled overseas to Dubai.
The national government announced this week that from January 1, all those seeking to attend mass events will need to show a “Covid health pass” – certification that they have received two doses.
This measure aims to speed up the vaccination programme, especially for children under 18 years of age, who are the furthest behind in the application of the second dose.
Under the new rules, all those aged over 13 will have to prove they have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (both doses) in order to attend activities that carry a "high epidemiological and health risk" due the concentration of people in a single place.
The health pass will serve as proof of vaccination for those seeking to attend events at nightclubs, party halls and indoor events. It will also be needed for those seeking to join large group trips or attend mass events with a capacity of more than 1,000 people, whether they are held inside or outside.
Similar passes have already been introduced by a number of regional governments recently, including the provinces of Buenos Aires, Tucumán, Salta and Jujuy. The policy will now be adopted mandatory nationwide, starting January 1.
In a statement, the government said the measure "represents a key tool to sustain the achievements of the current situation, reduce epidemiological risks and continue to provide protection against Covid-19 to more and more citizens."
Detailing how citizens and residents in Argentina can get a pass to accredit their vaccination status, the Health Ministry said people would have to update or install its Cuidar mobile phone application. Those who cannot access the application will have to seek a certificate of vaccination from their local authority, said officials.
Argentina has registered 116,892 deaths and more than 5.38 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 since March 2020, when the virus first arrived in the country.
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– TIMES with agencies