President Alberto Fernández responded to a mocking attack from his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday, following the Argentine leader's announcement of tightened restrictions to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Peronist leader announced Wednesday that he was extending a nighttime curfew and closing schools in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA) amid a second wave surge of infections. He said he would ask Argentina's military and security forces to assist the country's strained health system.
The news prompted a tweet from Bolsonaro on Thursday morning, in which he suggested the Army would be patrolling Argentina's streets.
"Argentine Army on the streets to keep people at home with a curfew between 8:00 and 8:00. Good morning everyone," he wrote, with a photo of Army officers attached.
The far-right Brazilian leader has refused to support lockdowns in his own nation, which has been one of the most severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The sight of Armed Forces on the streets is a sensitive issue in both Argentina and Brazil, which in the past have both been led by military dicatatorships.
In an interview with Radio 10 on Thursday morning, Fernández – who has clashed with Bolsonaro in the past on a range of subjects – criticised his Brazilian counterpart's claim.
"They are officers who have made their careers in democracy, they defend institutions and from that place they have collaborated in a magnificent way during the pandemic, offering assistance to places of greater vulnerability," said the Argentine leader, who raged it was "shocking that Bolsonaro says something like this."
Regarding the role of the Armed Forces, Fernández clarified that he had asked them "to help set up health posts to make testing faster."
"The Army has very qualified doctors and nurses and that is what I have asked of them. I have neither declared a state of siege, nor am I going to do so, and the Armed Forces are not there to carry out internal security, they are there to do what they do very well – in catastrophic situations provide support to the people," he responded.
The president said he would halt circulation in the AMBA area from 8pm to 6am, starting Friday, limiting movement to essential workers only. He has authorised the federal police to supervise compliance with that measure.
Argentina has been hit by a sharp acceleration of infections in the last month, with some 25,000 new cases on Wednesday. Experts are warning that the health system is close to saturation, with intensive care units filling up across the country.
With a population of 45 million, the country has recorded more than 2.6 million infections and 58,542 deaths since the start of the pandemic.