The government on Saturday published a decree proposing the setting of limits on the movement of people and nighttime activities, part of a move to lower Covid-19 infections in Argentina.
As previously reported, the filing in the Official Gazette did not lay out a specific timeframe, leaving it up to provincial and regional leaders to define in what hours restrictions will apply.
During initial talks over the introduction of new rules to govern nocturnal hours, the government proposed a national 11pm to 6am curfew. A host of provincial leaders, as well as authorities in Buenos Aires City pushed back against that proposal, preferring to decide for themselves.
The decree published Saturday laid out “measures to limit circulation” of people and traffic when “sanitary parameters” are met – namely, when the ratio of confirmed cases in a 14-day period to the previous fortnight exceeds 1.20. It said the Health Ministry would coordinate efforts with regional leaders, who would have the final say.
Speaking Friday, Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero, Health Access Secretary Carla Vizzotti and Tourism & Sports Minister Matías Lammens argued that the restrictions were necessary to "reduce infections," though each region would be able to decide how strict the measures were.
"What is done at the national level is the setting of guidelines, but then those who must apply the measures are the provincial and local authorities," said Cafiero.
He warned that Argentina "must not allow cases to continue to rise so as not to saturate the health system."
Rules for City and Province
Buenos Aires City Deputy Mayor Diego Santilli – filling in for his boss, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who is in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 – announced Saturday that porteños would not face restrictions on movement, though commercial, gastronomic and cultural venues would be required to close between 1am and 6am.
Social gatherings, whether indoors or outdoors, would be limited to a maximum of 10 people, he added, confirming the new rules would apply as from Sunday.
In tandem, officials in Buenos Aires Province confirmed similar restrictions for those parts of the region in Phases III and IV (the ranking runs from I to V, with the latter the most restrictive) of national coronavirus protocols.
“All commercial and artistic, including sports, culture, social and recreational, activity will be suspended at those times [1am to 6am] in those municipalities that are in Phases III and IV,” said Governor Axel Kicillof.
The restrictions will start as of Monday, with the use of urban passenger transport restricted to essential workers and the same 10-person limit on social gatherings.
Officials did, however, say that the rules would not apply to activities related to manufacturing and agricultural production.
Rise in confirmed cases
Confirmed cases are on the rise across the country and on Friday the government confirmed that it was extending the closure of Argentina’s borders to non-resident foreigners until February 1 as part of its attempt to slow infections.
In just the first seven days of January, the country registered more than 87,800 new cases of Covid-19, while on Thursday, the Health Ministry confirmed that more than 13,000 new cases had been recorded over the preceding 24 hours for a third consecutive day.
In Buenos Aires Province, home to 40 percent of Argentina's population and a number of beach resorts, daily new cases have risen from just under 2,000 on December 27 to more than 5,300 on Thursday.
In the first seven days of the year, authorities in Buenos Aires City recorded more than 8,800 confirmed cases, officials said Saturday.
Speaking Friday, Vizzotti said that there was greater movement of people during the summer holiday season and said nocturnal gatherings were the most prominent factor behind the surge in infections.
Social gatherings at night take place in "closed spaces, without wearing masks and if alcohol consumption increases, [preventative] measures are further relaxed," she argued.
Healthcare professionals have mostly backed the new measures. Argentina’s Association of Private Physicians released a statement on Friday warning that “human resources are overwhelmed and disillusioned” by rising infection rates and what is perceived as a lack of observation of Covid-19 protocols by citizens.
"People have relaxed a lot and a lot of things happened: the end of the year, parties, tired people wanting to get together, those who go on vacation and don't want to think about face-masks and social distancing,” said infectologist and presidential adviser Carlotta Russ.
“But the virus is not taking a holiday and the start of [the] vaccination [programme] is a very small step,” she added.