Testing units for Covid-19 across the capital were crowded on Monday, as long lines formed outside sports halls, convention centres and City hospitals.
With new cases on the rise in Argentina and fears of a ‘second wave’ of infections growing, people who fear they may have the virus said they were left waiting for up to four hours outside hospitals and clinics in Buenos Aires City to get tested.
This Monday, after the Easter holiday, 272 deaths were reported by the National Health Ministry, bringing the total balance to 56,471 deaths to date.
Over the last 24 hours, 13,667 new cases were recorded, officials said, lifting the total number of infections to 2,407,159 out of a population of 45 million, with a daily record of 2,428 cases registered in the capital alone.
On the sidewalk of the Hospital Durand, in the City neighbourhood of Caballito, a long line of patient porteños waited for hours for a swab, many of them reporting fever, a headache and a cough.
"We have been waiting for four hours because we have symptoms due to a positive contact that lives with us," said Jazmín Medina, a 26-year-old saleswoman, as she queued outside.
Closeby, several others who were waiting had chosen to sit or lie on the ground.
"It is incredible how it [the line] does not advance, I do not know what is happening, many people feel worse and everything is collapsed," said one young woman, who did not want to give her name.
Argentina is heading into what officials believe is a second wave of infections. Health experts are concerned by the circulation of new strains of the virus originating from Brazil and the United Kingdom, while the government’s mass vaccination scheme is progressing with difficulties, due to delays in the arrival of doses.
Even President Alberto Fernández, 62, tested positive on Friday. He has received both shots of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine and remains in isolation.
On Monday, the presidential medical team released a new statement saying that genome sequencing tests had revealed that the Peronist leader did not have “any of the new variants that are circulating. Doctors said he was well and described his “clinical picture” as “mild.”
As porteños waited in line, many expressed fears over the numbers of those who were waiting to be tested.
"Now the queue goes back almost two blocks… I think we are beginning to be in a complicated situation, there are many cases," said Fernando Bardelli, a 49-year-old employee who came to get swabbed at the Hospital Durand.
At the Hospital Rivadavia and at the Hospital General de Niños Pedro de Elizalde, both in the capital, similar scenes of anguish were playing out.
"We are all very scared, people do not take care of themselves, they do not use the barbijo [mask], the bars are open until any hour," complained Nathaly Basualdo, a 38-year-old cashier who said she had reported symptoms. "Everything is pretty bad, people are very afraid.”
Argentina applied a strict lockdown lasting several months last year, suffering a devastating economic collapse of a 9.9 percent contraction in GDP yet managing to avoid a collapse of the health system.
After practically an entire school year without face-to-face classes, educational institutions reopened in March. Commercial and productive activities resumed months ago and there is strong resistance to another full lockdown. Many feel last year’s was too severe.
Experts, however, express concern. "What if in two weeks we have 30,000 or 35,000 [cases] detected [daily]? We are no longer going to have to take partial measures, we are going to have to make a full shutdown. I think restrictive measures should have been taken before Easter," considered immunologist Dr Jorge Geffner.
During the Easter holidays, thousands of people travelled to internal tourist destinations. The country’s borders, however, remain closed.
As of Monday, the occupancy of intensive care wards reached 56.1 percent nationwide, rising to 62 percent in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA).
"There is an exponential increase in cases, going faster than last year, and those who are receiving intensive therapy are younger," explained Dr Rosa Reina, the president of the Argentine Society of Intensive Care.
"There is a fear that the health system will be saturated because there is no time to replenish it," he warned.
So far, Argentina has received only around seven million vaccines of the more than 60 million that it has ordered from various vaccine manufacturers.