President Alberto Fernández has entered a crucial 48 hours, as he seeks to fine-tune the next wave of Covid-19 restrictions as from May 21, when the current presidential decree expires.
The severity of the virus crisis and the impact of its sweeping second wave was underlined on Tuesday, when the Health Ministry registered 35,543 new infections and 745 fatalities over the past 24 hours – the worst daily figures of the pandemic to date.
The Peronist leader will reach his decision after consulting governors, with every indication of a tighter clampdown on the way. Even the Buenos Aires City government, led by the opposition, is relaxing its opposition to closures (including schools) with its contagion curve no longer dipping, while the Buenos Aires provincial government is stepping up its constant calls for tougher measures.
President Fernández will also be consulting his advisory team of epidemiologists and specialists in infectious diseases as to what action to take amid growing concern about the recent rise of Covid-19 cases.
This week’s figures could prove decisive. The week started after several consecutive days of coronavirus contagion topping 24,000 cases (except during the weekend with less testing) as well as 500-plus deaths most days. Tuesday’s figures will exacerbate concerns about the spread of the virus and the state of Argentina’s health system.
The surge extends beyond the borders of the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA in its Spanish acronym) to reach provinces like Córdoba, Santa Fe and Mendoza, whose governors will be at the forefront of presidential consultations to harmonise criteria.
The future restrictions will nevertheless fall short of an all-out quarantine, at least according to a Tuesday Radio 10 interview with President Fernández who ruled out any return to the first phase on "sociological grounds."
But in a recent television interview he seemed to be hinting that new measures were on the way, especially to reduce circulation "These measures are very necessary," he told the C5N news channel, while adding that those places complying with the ongoing limitations saw "a more significant fall in cases" while specifically reproaching Buenos Aires and Córdoba for "wasting time."
Fernández also said that during his European swing earlier this month he had walked 25 blocks between his Paris hotel and the Eiffel Tower without finding a single café or bar open, making the point that the problems were not limited to Argentina.
The new restrictions will necessarily be imposed via emergency presidential decree since time is lacking for Congress approval of the proposed pandemic superpowers bill, quite apart from some numerical difficulties. The Juntos por el Cambio opposition rejects these "superpowers" even if this initiative ties future restrictions to objective criteria such as the total of coronavirus cases as a percentage of the population and intensive care bed occupancy rather than any personal decision of Fernández.
Meanwhile, City Hall’s Health Minister Fernán Quirós said on Monday that the Federal Capital would not be ruling out new restrictions to resist the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, warning that the cases had been rising in the three previous days after the curve stopped dipping two days beforehand. Quirós attributed this rise to social fatigue but warned that should the upward trend continue into midweek, yet more restrictions would be necessary.
For the first time in a long while, City Hall thus seems to be more or less on the same page as the Buenos Aires provincial government, whose position was defined by its Deputy Health Minister Nicolás Kreplak: "It would seem increasingly logical to take stiffer precautionary measures for a limited time in order to finish vaccinating people and preserve the health system."