Argentina extends restrictive measures to avoid hospital collapse
Buenos Aires, May 3 (EFE).- As its vaccination campaign continues, Argentina is entering a new phase of measures to try and halt its second Covid-19 wave and prevent chaos in – and potential collapse of – the country’s health care system, measures which include greater restrictions particularly in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, the zone hardest hit by the virus.
President Alberto Fernandez ordered the measures implemented on April 16 to be maintained until May 21, with these measures being more or less restrictive depending on the pandemic scenario in different parts of the country.
The spotlight is mainly on the Buenos Aires metro area (AMBA), which includes the capital, governed by the opposition, and the 40 cities and towns around it, which are within the same-named province governed by Fernandez’s party.
“The epidemiological situation in AMBA is critical and we have other zones with high health tension,” said Fernandez on Friday in announcing the extension of the restrictions and the sending to Congress of a bill giving himself and governors – on the basis of “clear and precise scientific criteria” – to implement measures during the pandemic.
The initiative comes after the controversy that erupted with capital Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, who in April decided not to abide by the presidential order to suspend in-person school classes, which had resumed in February after almost a year of virtual teaching, a matter that the Supreme Court will not have to rule upon.
In the AMBA region, the prohibition on movement prevails between 8 pm and 6 am, and businesses such as restaurants may remain open until 7 pm provided that they have open-air seating space, after which time they may continue to operate albeit only for home food delivery.
What is certain is that, overall, the public is not adhering strictly to the measures in place, at least in the capital region, although this is being attributed, in part, to general exhaustion with the long quarantine in 2020.
Although the measures also establish that classes must be taught virtually in AMBA, the capital government insists that young children are being harmed by the lack of in-person classes, and thus the city – against Fernandez’s directive – has kept schools open for elementary level kids and special education students.
Regarding high school, the mayor decided that in-person classes will alternate with online teaching.
The thinking is that long-distance classes create difficulties for young people and their families but they are necessary to reduce the spread of the virus and keep people from getting infected, and Fernandez on Friday established the Health and Education Forum comprised of experts in pediatrics and teaching who will analyze the health situation in each district to decide when schools may be opened.
After the Southern Hemisphere summer passed in relative calm, with the arrival of autumn alarm is increasing due to the rapid escalation in case numbers, with infections breaking daily records established earlier in the pandemic.
“Between March 20 and April 10 we had an exponential rise in the number of daily cases. We’re having spokes of 3,300 cases (per day). Today, we’re at an average of 2,800 and for the past 12 days it’s been stable, but at a high level,” Rodriguez Larreta said on Friday.
According to the national Health Ministry, 264,810 people are currently sick with Covid-19 in Argentina, with more than 3 million having become infected since the start of the pandemic, and 64,252 people have died.
Both the city and province of Buenos Aires have experienced the majority of the country’s coronavirus cases. In AMBA alone, intensive care unit beds are at 76.2 percent occupancy, although nationwide the level of ICU occupancy is 68.1 percent.
Even so, some hospitals’ ICU units are completely full and serious cases are appearing much more frequently among younger population groups.
To date, Argentina, with its 45 million people, has received more than 10 million anti-Covid vaccine doses, particularly from Russia’s Gamaleya institute, which manufactures Sputnik V.
A total of 7.05 million citizens have received at least their first dose of one of the vaccines, and almost 990,000 have received both doses, this group comprising mainly people over age 60 or health care personnel.