THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS
At press time yesterday there was a total of 21,037 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 632 deaths, as compared to 15,419 cases and 520 deaths the previous Friday. On Thursday President Alberto Fernández carried quarantine into three digits by extending it by three weeks this time to June 28, not fortnightly as previously. But the announcement was also accompanied by considerable relaxation with lockdown downgraded to “preventive social distancing” nationwide save the metropolitan area and the urban zones of Córdoba, Chaco, Chubut and Río Negro. Even in the Federal Capital garment shops were re-opened and children accompanied by parents permitted outings on both weekend days and not one, as previously.
On Monday ANSeS social security administration confirmed that the IFE emergency family benefit of 10,000 pesos would also be paid this month to some nine million people.
City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Buenos Aires Governor Axel Kicillof met on Tuesday and agreed to disagree over degrees of flexibility for quarantine with Kicillof favouring a tighter approach since the confirmed cases in the key risk group of Greater Buenos Aires shantytowns had already quadrupled by the start of the week (Tuesday was also the first day with more deaths in Buenos Aires Province than City).
Kicollof’s concerns were underlined the next day when Wednesday saw the first deaths in the sealed-off shantytown of Villa Azul between Quilmes and Avellaneda where 276 cases of coronavirus had been registered by then – two men aged 69 and 77 (the former with the added complications of diabetes and high blood pressure and the latter with liver problems).
Apart from the presidential announcement, Thursday also the birth of the baby who had been the centre of a recent Necochea baby shower defying quarantine and infecting at least 22 people (including the mother). The new-born child tested positive for coronavirus but was otherwise in good health.
Police brutality in at least four provinces came under the spotlight last week with PRO centre-right opposition issuing a communiqué deploring “institutional violence” and the national government asking its provincial counterparts in Chaco, San Luis and Tucumán to explain the episodes, expressing its concern (there was also a mysterious police cell death in Santiago del Estero). According to Security Minister Sabina Frederic, none of the three provincial governments replied but the accused police officers were arrested or fired in Chaco and Tucumán.
INFERNO KILLS TWO
Two firemen died on Tuesday fighting a blaze in a Villa Crespo shop when the flames (apparently caused by a short circuit) reached highly inflammable material which exploded twice. Six other firemen were injured, two critically. Ironically enough, the tragedy occurred on Volunteer Fireman’s Day, marking the anniversary of the brigade’s foundation in 1884.
With debt talks still unresolved, the “blue” dollar returned to the levels of a fortnight ago at 125 pesos yesterday after closing the previous week at 115 (meanwhile the Banco Nación official exchange rate rose from 70.50 to 72 pesos between the two Fridays). But with the negotiations still going ahead country risk dropped almost 100 points yesterday to 2,539 as against 2,638 the previous Friday. While last Tuesday’s deadline for accepting the government’s bond swap offer to creditors was rolled over another 10 days until June 12, the outlook for negotiations continued to be bullish with the differences over exit yield reportedly narrowing to a single-digit percentage but with no end in sight. The new currency controls introduced by the Central Bank in the last minutes of the previous week also rattled businessmen throughout the week, especially where funding imported inputs was concerned by denying local dollars to importers with overseas accounts (Resolution 7030) – President Alberto Fernández huddled with leading businessmen on Wednesday to reassure them that the currency curbs are “transitory.”
TAX DATA PLUNGE
Last month’s tax revenue totalled just short of 500 billion pesos, a mere 12.4 percent higher than the previous year and 22 percent down in real terms after allowing for inflation. The first five months of the year totalled 2.3 trillion pesos, 28.3 percent up on the same period in 2019 and down over 13 percent in real terms. Given steeply increased public spending due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fiscal deficit is expected to widen dramatically. Perhaps the biggest shock was the 35 percent fall in export duties, even in nominal terms, despite major increases by the Alberto Fernández administration and after a year of 45 percent inflation. A 1,167 percent increase in personal assets taxation and the new 30 percent tax on dollar purchases bringing in nearly 12 billion pesos saved the tax figures from a worse performance.
New York judge Loretta Preska ruled yesterday against Argentina in deciding that the trial for the expropriation of YPF oil company should continue in the United States where it has been lodged since the 2012 nationalisation of YPF. Now the investment funds London-based Burford Capital and Eton Park, who purchased the rights to litigate against Argentina in this case, can press the judge to order YPF and the Argentine government to pay damages estimated up to US$9 billion.
Aerolíneas Argentinas confirmed on Monday that in the light of flights being suspended for at least half this year they would be laying off between a third and two-thirds of their staff of 12,000 while paying three-quarters of their salaries, meeting the sector’s trade unions during last week to discuss these plans. Airline pilots were reported to be the most resistant.
The fifth anniversary of the NiUnaMenos marches against femicide was marked on Tuesday without anybody out in the streets for the first time due to quarantine but the social networks were buzzing. A Chubut prosecutor’s definition of a 2012 gang rape as “letting off steam with intent” provided feminists with ammunition.