President Alberto Fernández on Friday announced an extension of the coronavirus lockdown in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA) until August 30, calling on citizens to be responsible and warning that Argentina is “very far from solving the problem.”
The measures, which are more relaxed in less densely populated areas, had been scheduled to expire on Sunday. Those living in the AMBA region have now been under lockdown for almost 150 days.
Only minor changes were made to existing quarantine measures. In the headline takeaways, residents in Buenos Aires City will be able to undertake more sports and exercise activities (mostly individual sports), while at least five cities in inland provinces will return to the strictest quarantine measures possible after witnessing a surge in cases.
Health Ministry officials said yesterday that 6,365 new confirmed cases and 165 deaths had been registered in the last 24 hours. Total infections have risen by more than 50,000 over the past seven days to 282,437. More than 1,100 fatalities have been registered this week, lifting the death toll to 5,527.
"We are very far from solving the problem. We will maintain the system [in place],” said the president at a press conference, before pushing back on claims Argentina was still under quarantine.
“The quarantine does not exist because there are people on the street, and all the businesses and industries are open," he argued.
Speaking at a press conference at the Olivos presidential residence, the Peronist leader said the virus was circulating in 14 of Argentina’s 23 provinces.
While the lockdown will remain in its current form for the most part in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, President Fernández also announced that, due to a surge of infections in recent weeks, five cities in inland provinces would return to a stricter quarantine starting on Monday.
These are the cities of Tartagal, in Salta; the provincial capital of La Rioja and Chamical; the provincial capital of Santiago del Estero and La Banda. They join the AMBA region and six other cities nationwide under harsher restrictions: Ledesma, Manuel Belgrano, El Carmen and San Pedro (Jujuy); Río Gallegos (Santa Cruz), and Río Grande (Tierra del Fuego).
Calling on all individuals to take responsibility for their actions and asking them to limit contact with others, Fernández warned that the health system needed to be cared for, saying that thanks to the lockdown, at the moment “a doctor does not have to choose who is saved and who is not."
“The only medicine we have found so far is to limit the movement of people and the face-to-face meeting of people as much as possible,” Fernández said, referring to the ban on social gatherings introduced last week. “The plan worked and it is working, but the risk always exists.”
"We agree with all governors that the greatest contagion problem occurs through social encounters,” he said. "I ask that we be careful.”
Nevertheless, critics of the quarantine measures are becoming increasingly vocal. A substantial part of the opposition is supporting new street protests and demonstrations scheduled for Monday.
Fernández, who was joined for the announcement by Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof, repeatedly rejected criticism of his government’s management of the crisis.
Social distancing is “not an act of authoritarianism or arrogance,” he said. “Increasing circulation, bringing physical contacts closer, is a risk. I have no other way to solve it."
Kicillof, in his own speech, warned that intensive care units were becoming increasingly full in the Conurbano and said that introducing a more flexible lockdown was an impossibility.
"In Greater Buenos Aires we have 64 percent of intensive therapy beds. It is a very high rate, so nothing can be made more flexible because there is a very great risk," warned the governor.
The occupancy of intensive care beds in the AMBA region currently stands at 68.3 percent and 58.3 percent nationwide, officials said. In Jujuy Province, the figure nears 93 percent, warned Fernández.
All three leaders welcomed the news that Argentina and Mexico have reached an agreement to jointly produce millions of doses of the vaccine designed by AztraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which is currently in phase 3 trials. Fernández described it as a “window of hope” amid the gloom of the pandemic.