Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta said Friday that schools in the capital would remain open until the Supreme Court settles the jurisdiction row with the national government over in-person classes.
The opposition leader said he would once again defy President Alberto Fernández’s wishes that schools be shuttered. Rodríguez Larreta, however, did offer a branch to the Peronist leader, saying that while in-person classes for infant and primary levels would continue for now, secondary school students would shift immediately to a “mixed model” with virtual and in-person classes.
Fernández announced Friday that existing measures to tackle the spread of Covid-19 had been extended for a further three weeks, with in-person classes suspended until May 21, along with the existing nighttime curfew prohibiting circulation between 8pm and 6am.
Speaking hours after that address, Rodríguez Larreta said at a press conference that City Hall would wait for the Supreme Court to rule on whether his administration had the authority to decide for itself on school closures.
"Education is a priority for us. It is the basis of our development and of the future of our children. We all know the enormous damage caused by the fact that children did not attend class all last year," Rodríguez Larreta said at a press conference.
"The City defends the need to maintain face-to-face classes in a careful manner, because they are fundamental in the development of children and because the data confirms that schools, by respecting all protocols, are not a place of greater contagion," he added, flanked by members of his Cabinet.
The Juntos por el Cambio leader also said that shopping centres would be closed, while bars and restaurants may only serve customers outside and until 7pm. After that, gastronomic establishments must solely be open for home delivery.
Rodríguez Larreta also said that some professional activities would be restricted, while as many residents as possible should work remotely from home. Constructions works will be suspended until May 21, except for projects covering less than 2,500 m2.
City Hall plans to ramp up the number of police on streets and tighten passenger checks and control points, essentially for the use of public transport, which remains solely for essential workers and those travelling to and from schools. Seven Subte underground rail stations will be temporarily shuttered.
Rodríguez Larreta was at pains to declare that "all the decisions made in the City are based on data and evidence" and, in this regard, he said that from March 22 to April 11 "there was an exponential increase in infections." Since April 12, he said there had been “a slowdown in the average number of new cases per day."
“The peak was 3,339 cases on April 22 and today the average number of new cases per day is 2,800, which reflects the flattening of the curve," said the City mayor, though he warned it was still necessary to “reinforce measures of care."
Rodríguez Larreta expressed concern over the occupancy of beds in intensive care units (ICU), which “remain high, at 77 percent in the public sector and 88 percent in the private sector."
"The City is working together with the private sector to expand the availability of beds, in addition to reconditioning the spaces of the 19 hospitals that receive Covid patients and to re-functionalise intensive care beds," he insisted.
The Kirchnerite leader said that his government had decided to "adhere to the decree and measures announced by President Alberto Fernández."
In practical terms, this means that restrictions will continue to be decided at municipal level in the nation's most-populous province, depending on which ‘phase’ of the pandemic each region is in.
Kicillof said he was asking residents to "apply greater care," and – in a dig at Rodríguez Larreta – he said it was important to "respect the law, institutions and democracy."
"The highest authority is the national government," he concluded.