President Alberto Fernández has confirmed that Argentina's nationwide lockdown to tackle the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is to be extended, though he confirmed there will be a loosening of restrictions for regions with low circulation of the virus.
The president did not give a specific date for the extension, though officials have briefed that it will run until May 10.
The move is part of the Frente de Todos leader's "managed quarantine" approach to the pandemic. "We are going to allow half the population to mobilise," he said during a pre-recorded message at the Olivos presidential residence aired Saturday night.
"Large urban centres" with "community circulation" of Covid-19 – in particular Buenos Aires City and Buenos Aires Province, the nation's hardest-hit regions – will remain under a strict lockdown for the time being, he said. The final decision on freedom of movement is "in the hands of the provincial authorities," he stressed, on a number of occasions.
Fernández said those "large urban centres" were areas with populations greater than 500,000 people, adding that the INDEC national statistics bureau would confirm which cities matched that criteria tomorrow.
The Peronist leader acknowledged that the risk of being infected with the virus was greater in "large urban centres."
"They are a unique issue, a large part of the epidemic is concentrated there, 47.4 percent of cases," he observed, highlighting Buenos Aires City and Province, Chaco, Santa Fe, Córdoba, Río Negro and Tierra del Fuego as "the most affected" regions in the country.
The president also said he would allow all citizens to leave their homes for one hour a day, starting Monday. While many other nations have allowed people out to exercise during the pandemic, Argentina's government has not granted permission, until now. However, it will be up to provincial and regional leaders to decide whether that measure is approved.
"We are going to authorise that, every day, anyone can go out for an hour, within a radius of up to 500 metres from their home, for leisure purposes," he said.
"That does not mean going for a run, cycling or physical activity, because physical activity exposes transmission of the virus. Recreational activity is going for a walk, getting a little air. Children can go out with their parents, teenagers can go out alone."
He recommended all citizens use face masks while outside, keep a distance of two metres from other individuals, and remove and wash all their shoes and clothing upon returning home, as well as wash their hands thoroughly.
The Buenos Aires City government was meeting Saturday evening to decide how they will approach this issue.
'I want to thank you'
The president's address to the nation, covered by public TV and all major news channels, was heavily delayed, following long meetings with provincial governors and a committee of health experts. A decree announcing the rules will be published imminently in the Official Gazette.
Fernández acknowledged that "the pandemic also generates economic conflicts and we are aware of that – there are many Argentines who need to return to their daily lives to earn a living. But we have to be very careful not to increase the risk."
Fernández called on citizens not to use public transport if at all necessary, saying it would help to protect fellow Argentines.
The president said that the strict isolation period – which he said that left 90 percent of citizens in their homes – had been a success and that is why Argentina had begun its "managed" quarantine period two weeks ago. "Now begins a third stage," he continued, saying that the decision on what activities could restart was mostly in the hands of provincial governors.
"There are still national restrictions, we are not disengaged with the issue," he said. "We are going to allow half the population to mobilise."
On Saturday night, the Health Ministry said that 173 new cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed in Argentina, lifting the total number of confirmed cases to 3,780. There have been 185 fatalities to date.
"As a society we have to be very proud and happy. We have been able to abide by a logical sanitary criterion to preserve our health. I want to thank you," the president said in his message to the nation.
He warned, however, that "we are far from saying that this is finished."