Argentina’s third wave of Covid-19 is taking the country into uncharted territory – on Friday, the country posted a record number of new cases for a fourth consecutive day, totalling 110,533 over the past 24 hours.
The country, which since the end of 2021 has been facing a dizzying rise in coronavirus infections, is now one of the countries in Latin America where the disease is progressing most rapidly. With testing centres overwhelmed by the spread of the Omicron variant, it was the second day running that caseloads have surpassed the 100,000-barrier.
Of those new cases, more than 40,000 were registered in Buenos Aires Province, where coastal resorts are packed with tourists enjoying the summer vacation season. Córdoba Province saw 12,827 new infections with Buenos Aires City, the nation’s capital, recording 13,118.
Experts said that 57.6 percent of all Covid tests are coming back positive, with the figure rising significantly on tourist hotspots on the Atlantic Coast. More than 191,000 tests were carried out on Friday.
Health Minister Carla Vizzotti this week urged people who are in close contact with a sick person but have no symptoms to isolate themselves and avoid going to testing centres, given the long lines seen outside testing sites across the country.
"I think some measures need to be taken. It seems to me that everything is too loose and people are not taking care of themselves. Now we are starting to see more facemasks, but a fortnight ago it was like there was no pandemic," Sol Castaño, a 21-year-old music student who was waiting in line to be tested after having fallen ill, told the AFP news agency.
Noting that more than 72 percent of the population has received a full schedule of two doses of Covid-19 vaccine, Vizzotti said that "a new variant emerged with a different situation, with an extraordinary transmissibility but with a much lower severity."
The Omicron variant was first detected in Argentina on December 5. Yet despite the recent surge in infections, hospitalisations and fatalities remain low, with 1,680 coronavirus patients currently in intensive care units (ICUs). Occupancy in these wards nationwide stands at 37.8 percent, rising to 38.8 percent in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA).
Nevertheless, given the sharp rise in the number of coronavirus infections in recent weeks, the president of the Argentine Intensive Care Society, Guillermo Chiappero, announced Friday that they are "beginning to regulate hospitalisations" to "free up beds" and thus have them available in case a patient with Covid-19 needs to be treated.
Over the last week, new cases have increased by more than 155 percent compared to the previous week, according to an AFP count based on official data.
"Omicron is bringing us many surprises. We don't know what the ceiling is going to be. There is no way to stop transmission," said Sonia Tarragona, Cabinet chief at the Health Ministry.
On Friday, one research institute warned that Argentina could be registering more than 247,000 confirmed cases a day by the end of this month.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a research centre at the University of Washington in Seattle, whose papers have appeared in leading scientific journals, based its estimate on recent data and particular Argentina’s high positivity rate for testing – which is currently more than five times the 10 percent rate recommended by the World Health Organisation.
The forecast coincides with the view of Dr Luis Cámera, one of the national government's advisors, who told a radio station in Mar del Plata this week that infections will peak "towards the end of January and then begin to decline."
With a population of 45 million, Argentina has so far recorded 6,135,836 and 117,428 deaths from Covid-19 since March 2020.