Argentina slashes incoming flights to stop spread of Covid-19 variants

Buenos Aires, Jun 29 (EFE).- Covid-19 has claimed more than 93,000 lives in Argentina, but the government’s decision to reduce the number of international arrivals by 70 percent to just 600 a day in hopes of keeping out the more dangerous Delta variant of the virus is drawing complaints.

The restriction will remain effective until at least July 9 and comes in addition to an outright ban on passenger flights from the United Kingdom, India, Turkey, Chile, Brazil and Africa.

President Alberto Fernandez’s government says that it is trying to prevent the Delta variant from taking hold in Argentina. Officials also point to the failure of 68 percent of arriving passengers to abide by pandemic protocols.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), comprising nearly 300 airlines, requested a meeting with the Argentine government in a statement decrying the new restrictions as unworkable.

“As its stands, airlines will not be able to implement the new government directive. At a minimum the government needs to advise how the 600 seats will be distributed between the airlines providing international passenger service to the country,” IATA’s regional vice president for the Americas, Peter Cerda, said.

The immediate effect of the move will be to leave Argentine citizens and legal residents stranded outside their country, Cerda said.

“By taking such unilateral decisions at such short notice, the government risks further isolating the country,” the IATA executive said.

Jurca, the association representing Argentine air carriers, said the tighter limit was tantamount to a “virtual border closure.”

The number of international flights arriving in Argentina is already down sharply from the pre-pandemic mark of 155 per day and will now fall to three, according to Jurca, who warned that some airlines may withdraw from the country permanently.

Roughly 45,000 Argentine citizens and permanent residents live outside the country.

The Fernandez government pushed back on the notion of the new regulation as a surprise, pointing out that all departing passengers sign a sworn statement assuming “the health, legal and economic consequences” of traveling during a pandemic, including possible effects on their ability to return to Argentina.

Argentina has been battling a second wave of Covid-19 since April and total cases stand at more than 4.4 million.

Though the daily number of new infections has declined in recent weeks, the government is eager to avert a third wave driven by the Delta variant.

More than 20.2 million of the country’s 45 million people have had at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, but just under 4 million are fully vaccinated.

Along with the reduction in the quota for arrivals, the government established a more stringent protocol that requires travelers to be tested for coronavirus not only before boarding the plane and when they disembark, but again on the seventh day after their arrival in Argentina.

Passengers must likewise self-quarantine until the third test comes back negative.

Conviction on charges of flouting the protocol carries a potential penalty of up to three years in prison and Argentine immigration authorities are currently pursuing prosecutions of 274 people. EFE


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