Argentina's automobile industry, paralysed since March 20 amid a mandatory nationwide quarantine, is quietly resuming production.
The sector is returning to work after receiving authorisation from the government of President Alberto Fernández to restart production with limited shift patterns.
"Given the export profile for production in the automotive sector, the possibility of returning to exporting is very auspicious," said the president of the Association of Automotive Manufacturers (ADEFA), Gabriel López, celebrating the news.
Factories have adopted security protocols agreed with the unions to lower the risk of Covid-19 transmission, including rotating shifts, the use of thermal cameras and protective gear for their workers.
President Fernández on Wednesday toured a plant owned by the Japanese firm Toyota in Zárate, in Buenos Aires Province. It returned to work on May 18 after almost two months of inactivity.
Fernández also visited the plants from other manufacturers, including Scania and Volkswagen, last week, which have also restarted production.
"Each company that reopens in Argentina is an act of celebration after so much pain and suffering that the pandemic has imposed on us," said Fernández after touring the Toyota plant where some 5,000 employees work.
The president also responded to questioning about criticism from sectors of the opposition, who say the government's quarantine order has damaged Argentina's economy.
"Every time they tell us about the damage from the quarantine. The quarantine is not what is doing the damage, the damage is caused by the pandemic which has paralysed the world’s economy, not the quarantine,” he said.
“The quarantine is for us to take care of ourselves," said Fernández, who was accompanied by provincial governor Axel Kicillof.
Argentina's auto industry halted production on March 20, when the president issued a mandatory isolation order. Some 80,000 workers in the industry stopped work, with no units at all produced during April.
Only minimal amounts of orders were shipped for export too – 2,386 in April, a fall of 82.9 percent on the previous month's figure and 88.4 percent down on the volume recorded in April 2019, according to an ADEFA report.
Automobile producers have suffered over the last few months in Argentina. In the first four months of the year, exports registered a 37 percent drop. Argentina has been in recession since 2018.
Many firms were among those who received state aid packages last month, with the government picking up the tab for up to half of employees' wages. Some tax burdens were also temporarily lifted.
To date, Argentina has registered more than 13,000 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began, with 492 deaths. According to the Health Ministry, around 4,300 patients have fully recovered. The vast majority of cases are located in Buenos Aires City and the wider metropolitan region.