Fears that the more contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 may be circulating freely in the country gripped Argentina on Friday, prompting authorities in Buenos Aires City and Córdoba into swift action.
Officials conducted door-to-door searches in the capital to “minimise the changes of contagion,” City Hall announced, after at least two people tested positive for the more virulent strain of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, in Córdoba Province, 17 people tested positive for the Delta variant, forcing at least 300 people into isolation. Authorities – who have traced the outbreak back to a 62-year-old man who recently returned to the country from Peru – shuttered a school in the provincial capital as part of their efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Even President Alberto Fernández was caught up in the crisis after returning from his overseas trip to attend Peru President Pedro Castillo’s inauguration.
The Casa Rosada said in a statement that the Peronist leader and the officials that travelled with him to Lima had isolated themselves after returning from their three-day trip, in line with national Covid-19 protocols.
All the members of the delegation – which includes First Lady Fabiola Yañez, Foreign Minister Felipe Solá, among others – had tested negative after returning to Argentina and would remain isolated until at least Tuesday, said a spokesperson, when they will undergo further testing.
Health Minister Carla Vizzotti is also in isolation after a recent trip to the United Kingdom.
On Friday, the National Health Ministry announced that 13,483 new cases of Covid-19 had been detected in Argentina over the preceding 24 hours, along with 474 fatalities. Since March, Argentina has recorded more than 4.9 million infections and 105,586 deaths from Covid-19.
On Friday afternoon, City Hall confirmed “active door-to-door searches” were underway in downtown Buenos Aires after at least two individuals tested positive for the Delta variant of Covid-19.
"In order to minimise the chances of contagion, active door-to-door search actions are being carried out in the Monserrat neighbourhood, where one of the positive [cases] was detected," the City government said in a statement.
As many as 41 individuals had been identified as close contacts of the first positive case, said City Hall, with all of them now in isolation after being tested. An investigation into those who had been in the presence of the second case is underway, it added.
“Once this investigation has been resolved, it will be possible to determine if there is community circulation in the City," said the government.
However, local reports said that both the positive cases had not travelled recently, or been in contact with individuals who had, lending credence to the view that the Delta strain could already be in circulation. The first detection of the variant was detected almost three months ago, so the thesis is plausible.
According to reports, one of the infected is a minor who first began experiencing symptoms on July 20 and whose sample was tested at the Hospital de Niños. The other, aged 31, tested positive on July 4, with the Delta strain identified the same day.
In Córdoba Province, authorities confirmed that at least 17 people had been infected with the Delta variant and said they were working to limit the spread of the virus.
Local reports said the strain of the virus had initially entered the region via a 62-year-old who had recently returned to Argentina from Peru. In the provincial capital, officials ordered the closure of a school attended by family members of one individual who tested positive after having been in contact with the returning resident.
Underlining the extent of the fears, Florencia Carignano, head of the National Migration Directorate, said Friday that the incident had the potential to be "an epidemiological bomb" and that as many as 300 people had already been isolated in their residences.
Authorities are investigating, but they believe the individual who is the source of the initial outbreak had contravened Covid-19 protocols and seen family members before his mandatory quarantine period had finished, thus leading to the spread of the virus.
The individual, who is Peruvian and re-entered the country on July 19, will be charged if the claims are true, said local prosecutors, and could face potential jail time if it is proven he was negligent.
Speaking to local outlets, Córdoba’s Health Promotion and Prevention Secretary Gabriela Barbás said the Delta variant is “highly transmissible” and “superior to what the other variants are, therefore it is important to continue urging the population to be vaccinated to avoid the development of a serious or fatal condition."
‘War has changed’
Leaked documents from the US government on Friday showed that the Delta variant of the coronavirus is as contagious as chickenpox, and probably causes more severe disease than past strains of Covid-19.
An internal slide presentation produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leaked to the press, declared that "the war has changed" as a result of Delta, which was first identified in India.
The CDC report warned that a review of findings from other countries showed that while the original SARS-CoV-2 was as contagious as the common cold, each person with Delta infects on average eight others, making it as transmissible as chickenpox but still less than measles.