Covid-19 – the respiratory virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December and has spread across the world sparking chaos – reached Argentina this week, with eight confirmed cases and various others now under observation throughout the country.
At press time, the government confirmed six new cases, lifting the previous total of two to eight overall. Four patients are in Buenos Aires City, with one Buenos Aires Province and another in Córdoba.
As reports emerged of surgical face masks selling out amid fears of contagion, government officials asked Argentines to stay calm and follow safety procedures. “The situation is under control,” was the message briefed by spokespersons.
After a huddle between ministers at the Casa Rosada earlier yesterday, headed by Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero, a number of officials faced the press to reiterate the message.
“Argentina is in the containment stage” of the coronavirus, Health Access Secretary Carla Vizzoti told a press conference, calling on the media not to generate uncertainty.
Buenos Aires City Health Minister Fernán Quirós, meanwhile, said anyone who suspected they might have the virus should not go to an emergency centre or hospital, telling them instead to call the emergency 107 SAME phone-line and follow instructions.
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“If they have arrived from a country with circulation and start having symptoms, we recommend that they stay at home, call 107, the SAME [phoneline], and then they will be referred to a health centre. But the important thing is not to go to the emergency room, “ he said.
Infectious disease specialist Tomás Orduna, told reporters that “the most important thing is to wash your hands with soap and water,” or failing that, use alcohol hand sanitiser.
Officials said fever, a cough and a sore throat were symptoms of the virus to look out for.
Argentina’s “Patient Zero,” a 43-year-old man identified by Noticias magazine yesterday as Claudio Ariel P., arrived last Sunday from Milan and flew direct via Alitalia airlines. He had travelled to Spain and Hungary, and he was asymptomatic at the time of arrival.
That same evening, he became ill, developing a fever and respiratory symptoms. He went to the private Swiss Medical Centre on Avenue Pueyrredón, where he was immediately quarantined.
An analysis was sent to a branch of the Administración Nacional de Laboratorios e Institutos de Salud (ANLIS) “Dr. Carlos Malbrán,” a medical testing laboratory network, which confirmed a positive result on Tuesday.
Two days later, he was transferred to the Sanatorio Agote private hospital, where he remains under observation and is expected to stay for seven more days.
Claudio, who reportedly works in the textile industry and lives in Puerto Madero, appears to be in good spirits. In a video shared from the hospital, he is seen asking the nurse jokingly if they have sushi available for dinner.
Two days after he was diagnosed, the Health Ministry confirmed that a second individual had been diagnosed with the Covid-19 coronavirus in Argentina, stressing that it was another “imported case” involving a 23-year-old man who had recently returned from Northern Italy.
He is now under observation at the Sanatorio Otamendi private hospital in Recoleta.
Health officials indicated that the individual had been diagnosed after presenting himself at a private clinic on March 3, after suffering “a cough and fever and general malaise.”
They added that the young man had returned to the country on March 1.
According to reports, he visited Venice and returned on the same Alitalia flight as the first confirmed case. His partner has also been hospitalised under precautionary measures, isolated at the Sanatorio Anchorena private hostpital in Recoleta awaiting test results.
On Friday morning, Perfil revealed that the individual who had been diagnosed was named Juan and worked as an “advisor to a Consenso Federal lawmaker from the City of Buenos Aires.”
City Deputy Eugenio Casielles, who the patient works for, said Thursday night that he was “nervous, but very calm.”
In addition to the two confirmed cases in the city, health officials indicated yesterday that six others had tested positive, rising the tally to eight.
Four patients are in the capital (a 72-year-old woman and three men, aged 44, 46 and 67), one (a 63-year-old woman) resides in San Martín, Buenos Aires Province, and another (a 57-year-old man) is from Córdoba.
The Health Ministry, headed by Ginés González García, said in a statement that the Malbrán institute had confirmed the results and that the cases were all “imported.”
“In all cases they are travellers who returned from Europe and reside in the province of Córdoba, Buenos Aires and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires,” the Ministry said in a statement.
At least two other individuals – a 31-year-old from San Rafael , Mendoza Province, and a woman from Concordia, Entre Ríos Province – are also under observation, awaiting results. Both had recently travelled to Italy.
Carla Vizzoti, an official with the Health Ministry, warned on Monday that early detection of Covid-19 was crucial.
On Thursday, in response to the news, state airline Aerolíneas Argentinas announced that it had cancelled most flights to and from Italy for the rest of the month.
Besides China, Italy is one of the countries most affected by the coronavirus, with 3,858 diagnoses, 148 deaths, and a surging rate of new cases.
Worldwide, recorded cases have reached over 100,000, with more than 3,000 deaths.
Experts suspect, however, that the mortality rate is in reality much lower than three percent, given the mild or even asymptomatic nature of the virus. Nevertheless, the frequency of undiagnosed cases inevitably makes it harder to contain.
Officials have noted that risk to Argentines is still low, encouraging frequent hand-washing, coughing into your sleeves, and maintaining a one-metre distance from others as the most effective precautionary measures.
Despite not being explicitly recommended, respirator masks have recorded a sharp increase in price amid growing fears of a major spread throughout the country.
Online, a pack of 20 ‘N95’ respirator units can cost 50,000 pesos (approx US$800), and many advertisers are price-gouging standard surgical masks, which do not even inhibit the transmission of virus particles.