Argentina awoke to an unprecedented nationwide lockdown yesterday, after President Alberto Fernández ordered every citizen to remain in their homes in a bid to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The “preventative and compulsory” quarantine period, announced by the president in a televised speech, runs until March 31. It is one of the strictest measures taken by any Latin American nation to date to cope with the outbreak. At least three people have died after being infected with Covid-19 to date. On Friday, health officials confirmed 30 new cases, taking the total number infected in Argentina to 158. The figure is rising more steeply by the day, up from 128 on Thursday and just 31 a week before.
Until the end of the month, citizens are only permitted to leave their homes for essential services such as trips to supermarkets and pharmacies, Fernández announced. Warehouses, supermarkets, hardware stores and pharmacies can remain open, but the Gendarmerie and the Police will monitor the streets.
“In the face of this crisis there is no place for individualistic attitudes, we need to maintain social distancing and avoid leaving our homes,” said Fernández.
He warned that those breaking the “compulsory” order to stay inside would be punished.
“We’ll be absolutely inflexible in the enforcement,” the Peronist leader declared. “This is an exceptional measure in an exceptional time, within the framework of what democracy allows.”
So far, 70 percent of cases have been concentrated in Greater Buenos Aires, including 18 of the new infections reported Friday. Four more were recorded in Córdoba Province, two in Neuquén, with one in Chaco, Tierra del Fuego, Entre Ríos, San Luis, Corrientes, and Santiago del Estero.
Twenty-two of the new cases were detected in people with recent travel to infected regions, four were infected after spending time with previously infected cases, and another four are under investigation,” officials said.
The president has implemented ever-tougher restrictions in recent days to contain the outbreak. The government had already shut borders, cancelled almost all flights with the exception of repatriations, closed schools and mandated a 14-day quarantine for anyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms or traveling from virus hotspots.
The new measures are similar to those applied in Italy and Spain. A complete lockdown, except for health, security, defence and diplomatic workers, and those who assist elderly or disabled people, as well as those who work in school canteens and community shelters.
Cashpoints at banks, garbage collection, postal and urban public transportation services will remain in operation, with exceptions for their workers too.
Amid the crisis, which has impacted global markets across the world, Argentine bonds and securities have slumped. The Merval benchmark index on the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange recorded double digits falls at least twice, with state energy firm YPF among the hardest hit.
The Frente de Todos leader acknowledged that the economy will slow down because of the virus, and added that he will announce additional measures to aid workers in the informal sector in upcoming days.
“It is about preventing the contagion rate from accelerating in such a way that the health system cannot attend to it,” said Fernández.
According to the World Health Organisation, Argentina has five hospital beds for every 1,000 inhabitants, the second-highest rate in Latin America, after Cuba. The president recently announced the construction of eight mod u l a r emergency hospitals.
On Monday, Argentina decreed a two-week suspension of classes in schools and universities, the closing of its borders, and a halt to football tournaments and shows. In addition, it recommended that companies allow employees to work remotely and that leave be granted to employees aged over 60 or those suffering from chronic illnesses.
The government has briefed it will not allow citizens to ignore the restrictions put in place, though some are yet to heed thewarning.
Just an hour or two after the lockdown began on Friday, a 26-year-old man was arrested in Córdoba and charged with breaking the quarantine, Noticias Argentinas reported. His excuse, according to reports, is that “he didn’t have to explain himself to anyone.”
Another 16 were arrested in Santiago del Estero, while at least seven men (one armed) in Belgrano were arrested in Buenos Aires City, local media reported.
According to the penal code, punishments of six months to two years behind bars can be handed down for those who violate the government’s measures without cause.
In the capital, the head of the emergency services in Buenos Aires City pleaded with porteños to stay home and help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are prepared, but the fundamental thing is that people stay at home. The solidarity of the people is what we need at this time, [and] that Argentines understand that they have to stay at home and avoid contact. We don’t want this to spread,” Alberto Crescenti, director of the SAME emergency services said Thursday.
In an interview on Friday, Health Minister Ginés González García, reiterated the importance of preventive and compulsory isolation for all, warning that cases in Argentina were at a “point of plateau” and that some of them were “no longer imported.”
“We are already, imminently, at the possibility of social circulation,” he told Radio Mitre in an interview.
“What we are trying to do in this is to make it happen slowly and gradually. We have said from the beginning that the whole strategy is to bend the curve, [we’re] trying to learn a lot from what happened in the world,” he added.
“There is no vaccine. There will be no vaccine available for six to eight months,” he warned. “The only vaccine is isolation.”
On Friday, the president took to Twitter to thank Argentines for their cooperation.
“Thank you all for your understanding and for staying in your homes. If we are united and comply with the provisions, this will soon pass.”
◆ The April 2 public holiday will be advanced to March 31, and March 30 will be designated as a public holiday to skirt the gap.
◆ Small convenience stores and supermarkets will remain open – shopping for food, medicine and essential items will be allowed.
◆ Coast guard, border guard, national and provincial police will patrol the streets to ensure people remain home.
◆ Whoever cannot justify his or her presence on the streets will be punished, according to the fines or penalties laid down in Argentina’s Criminal Code.
◆ Workers exempted from the lockdown: Police, military, media, hospital workers, supermarket employees and other groups are also allowed to continue to work, as well as those involved in production and delivery of food, drugs, petrol and other essential items.
◆ There will be a federal office created to deal with the pandemic, as well as resulting economic problems.