The first two cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in the Villa 31 shantytown in Retiro.
A 43-year-old woman was the first confirmed Covid-19 case in the barrio on Tuesday. She presented herself last Friday at a health clinic in the neighbourhood seeking assistance after coming down with symptoms of the infection.
The woman, who suffers from asthma, was immediately transferred to the Febril Emergency Unit (UFU) of the Fernández hospital in Palermo. Upon arrival, she was put into isolation.
Those with whom she had contact in recent days were also put under observation subsequently, sources in the Buenos Aires City government told Perfil. However, that claim came into question when authorities confirmed on Wednesday that a second individual from Villa 31 had tested positive.
Said to be a 35-year-old woman with asthma and kidney problems, the second individual had reportedly been in close contact with the first individual, according to local reports. Some locals told media outlets that the 12 people who shared a bathroom with the first known case had not yet been fully isolated.
City government officials say that they are studying whether the relatives of the infected have symptoms, and if they are complying with quarantine rules to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We are seeing how we are going to proceed with the protocol in this case,” said City Health Minister Fernán Quirós, in dialogue with TN.
According to officials, the first infected woman “had not left her home since Thursday the 19th” of April, respecting social, preventive and obligatory distancing rules.
To date, these are the only two registered and confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Villa 31 de Retiro. The barrio, which borders upmarket, Recoleta is home to some 45,000 families.
Cases of social circulation of the virus have also been registered in other impoverished areas, including Villa 1-11-14, Bajo Flores (Padre Ricciardelli neighborhood) and Villa 15 (Ciudad Oculta) de Villa Lugano.
One of the biggest fears for officials – from both the City and national governments – is the coronavirus' arrival into the barrios populares, where in many cases obligatory isolation rules cannot be fully respected due to overcrowding.
For this reason, social organisations have proposed a “neighbourhood” isolation that would reduce circulation in some sectors.
The situation of the first 43-year-old patient –– who lived in a small home with her parents, both older adults and patients at risk, sharing the property with three other families –– exposes a scene of fear that is repeated in many other regions across Greater Buenos Aires.
“Bathrooms and kitchens are shared by six people, the corridors between house and house are half-a-metre or a metre at best and there is no ventilation,” Natalie Molina, a resident of Villa 21.24 and a member of Corriente Villera Independiente, told Perfil recently.
According to the latest survey presented by the NGO Techo, more than three million people currently live in the vilas in Argentina. More than half of all informal settlements are concentrated in Buenos Aires Province, where 61 percent of families live in situations of extreme poverty – 95 percent of families do not have access to running water and 98 percent do not have regular access to the sewage system, according to the survey.
“We are working with great commitment to prevent the spread coronavirus in Villa 31,” the Buenos Aires City government said in a statement. “Within the measures that we have been implementing, we have closed public spaces; we have carried out continuous disinfection and cleaning operations on the streets together with the neighbourhood cooperatives; we have prepared spaces so that older adults can adequately perform social distancing; we have suspended payment of fees for those families who moved to new homes; we have reinforced the work with dining rooms and referents; we maintain attention guards for issues related to infrastructure maintenance.”
According to the City's Community Development Ministry, the demand for food assistance has increased by close to 40 percent in Buenos Aires Province during the nationwide lockdown. To counter the problem, Governor Axel Kicillof's Cabinet has tripled the budget of the School Food Service (SAE), seeking to reach more than 10,000 public schools every fortnight, in addition to the 4,500 dining rooms and food distribution points at which it provides assistance.