The government has decided to ban all social gatherings in Argentina for the next 15 days, amid a record surge in Covid-19 cases and fatalities.
The move, first announced Sunday morning by Health Access Secretary Carla Vizzotti and due to be confirmed Monday morning via the publication of an emergency DNU decree, is the latest attempt to slow the spread of the virus in the country.
On Sunday, officials said Argentina surpassed 200,000 infections since the pandemic began. More than 3,500 people have lost their lives after being infected with the novel coronavirus.
Vizzotti, speaking at the Health Ministry's daily press conference, said that the decision was based on the surge in confirmed cases over the last month and that experts had noted that circulation of the virus was increasing as a result of get-togethers.
"Until August 16 they will be suspended. [We will] restrict social gatherings throughout the national territory so that where there are outbreaks they can be controlled and where there are not we can minimise the possibility of having them," said the official.
It would last "until we can transmit the message of the importance of individual responsibility," she added.
The ban will apply nationwide, even in areas of the country where the virus is not circulating in the community.
"The risk increases in social gatherings, both in places where it is authorised to do so and where it is not authorised," added Vizzotti, who added that social distancing measures were hard to follow "in a context of closeness."
According to a copy of the decree, which was sent to journalists on Sunday evening before being published, the government is seeking to prohibit six forms of social gatherings. The ban applies in the following situations:
– "Cultural, recreational and religious events in public or private spaces" with more than 10 people attending.
– All social or family events in closed spaces or homes, regardless of the number of attendees (excluding those who live together). Those breaking the rules could face prosecution, the decree warns.
– The practising of any sport involving more than 10 people, or that does not allow a minimum distance of two metres between participants.
– Cinemas, theatres, clubs and cultural centres.
– Most forms of intercity and international public passenger transport (with some exceptions).
Clarifying the new rules in an interview with the A24 news channel, Health Minister Ginés González García acknowledged that gatherings of friends and families were "typical" of Argentines, yet he warned that in many of them "there is no [social] distancing" and that many "remove their face masks" during such meetings.
"They are settings what people are grouped together and the risk [of contagion] is much higher," he explained.
Last week, as he announced an extension of existing quarantine regulations in their current form, President Alberto Fernández called on citizens to be responsible for their actions in the face of the pandemic. He warned in a speech that those who take part in social gatherings could face fines and penalties, especially in areas of high circulation of the virus.
"Social gatherings will be prohibited, and those who carry them out know that they may incur the criminal responsibility of transmitting a disease," he said.
"The big problem that we have had in the last 15 days is that we relaxed," said the Peronist leader last Friday.
"We felt that it was contained, but it is not – it is far from being contained” he said, calling on the younger sections of society to take responsibility for the elderly.
"I want to speak to you from the heart. We were all young and we all know the affection that comes from meeting with friends, to share [things], to enjoy [ourselves]," he explained. "I miss concerts, football matches, playing the guitar with my friends. But do you know what happens? We cannot do it."