Argentina welcomed a new shipment of one million doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine on Thursday, with the government vowing to ramp up inoculation of citizens as quickly as possible.
"I am putting all my effort in so that the vaccines arrive as soon as possible, I am not going to give up. We have to make every effort to vaccinate our older citizens," President Alberto Fernández declared in an interview with Radio 10.
With the arrival of the new batch, which landed at Ezeiza on Thursday, Argentina has now taken possession of 6,768,540 vaccine doses against Covid-19. Of those, 5.1 million have already been distributed throughout the country and more than four million have already been given, the government said in a statement.
The arrival of an 11th shipment of Sputnik V, the vaccine produced by the Russian laboratory Gamaleya, is expected on Friday. In 10 previous flights to Moscow, state carrier Aerolíneas Argentinas had brought a total of 3,969,000 doses home.
The government hopes to speed up its vaccination campaign before the end of April. By then, the most at-risk groups will already have been vaccinated, said Fernández on Thursday. Over the past week, renewed fears of a second wave of infections have increased, amid a sharp rise in new cases. Scientists also confirmed that four new variants of the virus are circulating among communities in national territory.
"We believe that we are starting the second wave, with a sustained increase in cases, which raises concern," Health Minister Carla Vizzotti told AM530 radio on Thursday.
No new lockdown
The government is analysing whether to issue new restrictions, though officials want to avoid the strict lockdown that was imposed last year, which exacerbated Argentina's ongoing recession.
The virus "is not in a factory, it is not in a classroom either," said Vizzotti. "We know that productive activities with protocols are not sources of contagion. It is in moments of rest and relaxation, when the guard is dow."
Argentina's air and land borders are currently closed to foreign tourists, but tens of thousands of people are expected to move around the country this long Easter weekend.
On Wednesday there were 16,056 infections – 7,000 more than a week before and the country's highest daily figure since October 21, 2020, when 18,326 cases were recorded in one day, in the middle of the first wave. Deaths, however, are considerably down on previous highs – 124 on Wednesday, compared to 423 on the same October 21.
Over the past 24 hours, 83 deaths and 14,430 new cases reported, for a total tally of 2,363,251 million infections and 55,941 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Local media reported Thursday that President Fernández had asked Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta to meet him for an emergency meeting for Saturday to analyse the situation in the capital, where cases have doubled in a week, as well as in the overcrowded Conurbano.
Ignoring the Easter break, vaccination continued at the Centenario stadium in the town of Quilmes, on the southern outskirts of the capital on Thursday. Dozens of people aged over 70 years old paraded through to receive a jab.
"Today we continue with the challenge of continuing with vaccination. But we need to continue taking care of ourselves to avoid infections and to ensure this second wave that we are already going through is not something that ends with a collapse of the health system," warned Quilmes Mayor Mayra Mendoza.
Justina García, a 74-year-old retiree, had just received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"I am very happy. My body can't contain all the joy that I have. I have waited for this moment for a while," she told AFP.
For the second dose, Justina will have to wait three months. "I will be as anxious as at this moment," she said.
"People are careless. I was locked up in my house for a year and a half, people should do the same," she launches, angered by the second wave.