Argentina surpassed 320,000 infections from the novel coronavirus this week, as numbers of confirmed cases and fatalities continued to surge.
On Friday, the Health Ministry announced that 8,159 new cases had been recorded over the past 24 hours – the second straight day that the amount cleared 8,000. The new infections pushed the total number of infections to date to 329,043.
In addition, 214 lost their lives after being infected with the virus over the same period, officials said, lifting the death toll to 6,730.
Officials also said that 1,853 individuals are currently receiving care in intensive care units (ICUs) across the country, with “community circulation” of the virus in 15 provinces.
Bed occupancy in ICU wards currently stands at 58 percent nationwide, rising to 67.1 percent in Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA), said the daily report.
Infection numbers have surged over the past two months in Argentina, with greater strain being placed on the health system. On Thursday, Argentina recorded its worst day of the pandemic yet, with officials confirming 8,225 people had tested positive for Covid-19.
That record came three days after demonstrators staged a mass anti-government rally the previous day in several cities across the country, defying the Covid-19 lockdown. Officials in the Alberto Fernández administration were critical of those who attended the rally, saying the protest could aggravate the number of infections.
Quarantine restrictions remain in place, though they have been relaxed in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Contrary to the experience of recent months, some provinces are now enacting more rigorous measures as the circulation of the virus increases outside the capital and its surroundings.
Crunching the numbers behind confirmed cases since August, experts at the Epidemiological Research Institute (IIE) found that 20 percent of all new cases since the turn of the month had been recorded in the provinces of Tucumán, Entre Ríos, Salta, Santa Fe, Mendoza and Jujuy. Some experts have noted, however, that numbers may be falling in Buenos Aires City as part of a trend.
Epidemiologist Roberto Chuit, the IIE’s executive director said that “the virus is distributed across the country and affects different territories. Infections are increasing, today there are cases in almost all provinces."
Nevertheless, pressure is building on the government to relax quarantine restrictions even further, given the economic turmoil facing the country, which has been in recession since 2018. The economy is expected to contract by as much as 12 percent this year, according to private estimates.
A poll from Giacobbe & Asociados published Tuesday, based on consultations with 2,500 people last week, reported that 44 percent of those quizzed disapproved of the government's most recent extension of the lockdown, with only 43 percent approving of the extension.
The Health Ministry says that more than 239,000 people have recovered from the virus after infection. The fatality rate in Argentina is 115 people per one million inhabitants, the third lowest in the region after Uruguay and Paraguay, the government said last week.
Speaking Friday, President Alberto Fernández said Argentina had been hit by “two pandemics” – a reference to the debt burden and recession inherited from the Mauricio Macri administration and the coronavirus pandemic.
Chinese vaccine tests
Government officials revealed yesterday that a coronavirus vaccine development by the Chinese group Sinopharm will undergo Phase III testing with volunteers from Argentina.
Health Minister Ginés González García said that the Fernández administration was “very proud” of supporting the creation of a vaccine.
“We are eager for the study to begin to get results and share them," he added.
Argentina has been playing a crucial role in the development of a vaccine to immunise individuals against the virus. One month ago, officials announced that Phase III testing of an option created by Germany’s BioNTech and the US pharma-giant Pfizer was to be tested on volunteers.
Last week, the government said that it would co-produce with Mexico millions of doses of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and the Swedish-British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for distribution in Latin America.