City Health Minister Fernán Quirós said Wednesday that “it is not yet the moment" for porteños to stop wearing facemasks, breaking with a proposed relaxation of coronavirus restrictions due to start next month.
"We believe that it is not yet the time to remove the chinstrap," said the official in the Buenos Aires City government led by Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.
"We know that in open spaces, contagiousness is much lower, but in the City we intend to reach 70 percent of the population with two doses of [Covid-19] vaccine before taking this type of measure,” Quirós said in an interview with local station Radio Con Vos.
The National Government announced Tuesday that as of October 1, citizens will not be obliged to use facemasks while outdoors provided there is no large group of people. Face coverings will still be required while in enclosed spaces or where there is an agglomeration of people.
"We are going to see day-by-day and week-by-week in these next 10 days in which we hope to pass this step [to reach 70 percent vaccination]. From there we are going to propose to the public what we recommend and what is the best way to take care of ourselves,” said Quirós. “What we say is that for now we continue with the facemask a little more – we are very close to reaching the milestone.”
The minister also warned any move to relax the use of the facemask should not be accompanied by a lack of wider care.
“We have a threat ahead of us, which is the Delta variant, which should increase cases, " he warned, stressing that openings should be staggered.
Buenos Aires City is the latest in a string of regional governments that have expressed unease at a relaxation of the use of facemasks. The provinces of Río Negro, Salta, Jujuy, Mendoza and Córdoba have all indicated that they will not adhere to the measure announced by Health Minister Carla Vizzotti and Cabinet Chief Juan Manzur at the Casa Rosada on Tuesday.
Clarifying its instructions on the use of facemasks, the government confirmed that they will not be required in “open air, when circulating individually or in a bubble where there is no build-up of people” as from October 1.
Masks will be obligatory, however, in “closed spaces (classrooms, cinemas, theatres, work environments, on public transport, shows and mass events) and outdoors where there are crowds of people.”
The Health Ministry also said that it recommended that people with risk conditions continue using face coverings when outside their homes.
Government officials defended the relaxation of Covid-19 measures on Wednesday, after a number of opposition officials claimed the decision was made with the November midterms in mind.
Vizzotti said Argentina's improved health situation is "indisuputable and really optimal." She denied claims that politics had influenced the decision, saying that the move had first been trailed "more than two months ago."
Buenos Aires Province Health Minister Nicolás Kreplak described the decision as "sanitary" and that he believed that "what has been decided is correct," adding that the decision had been discussed at previous health meetings.
Infectologist and Casa Rosada advisor Carlota Russ also said she "agreed with the provisions that are being proposed," saying it would bring Argentines "a little closer to normal life."
Paediatrician Carlos Kambourian, the former head of the Garrahan Hospital, however, said the decision was "desperate" and a result of "losing elections." He felt the "easing of restrictions could have been taken much earlier."