Argentina receives AstraZeneca jabs amid anti-lockdown protests

New COVID-19 restrictions have been imposed in and around Buenos Aires in effort to stem recent rise in infections.

Demonstrators protest against President Alberto Fernandez's lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, in Buenos Aires, on April 17 [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

Argentina has received a shipment of 864,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX global vaccination programme, the government said on Sunday, a day after demonstrations broke out against lockdown measures imposed in the Buenos Aires area.

The doses from the Netherlands come after Argentina received 218,000 jabs last month through COVAX, which aims to ensure lower-income nations have equitable access to much-needed vaccines.

The South American country has administered 6.2 million jabs since its vaccine roll-out began in December of last year, while around 800,000 people are considered fully immunised after receiving two doses.

Argentines took to the streets on Saturday, however, to protest against new coronavirus-related restrictions in and around the capital, Buenos Aires, that came into effect on Friday.

The new measures, which include an 8pm curfew, school closures and a ban on activities in indoor public spaces, are expected to last through the end of the month.

A healthcare worker checks a patient suffering from COVID-19 in an intensive care unit of a hospital on the outskirts of Buenos Aires [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

Waving Argentinian flags and shouting slogans against President Alberto Fernandez, many demonstrators raised opposition to a decision to suspend in-person schooling for 15 days, which comes into effect on Monday.

The restrictions affect the capital and its peripheries, an area home to 15 million people.

Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, head of the city government, said last week that Buenos Aires “totally disagree[s] with the decision of the national government to close schools”.

“Yesterday, the national government decided to break the mechanism of dialogue and consensus that we had for more than a year,” Larreta said during a news conference. “I want to be very clear: we were not consulted about any of the measures taken.”

Fernandez, the president, said Argentina needed to “gain time” to tackle the surging pandemic.

“The virus is attacking us and is far from giving in,” he said when he announced the new curbs.

Last week, the Pan American Health Organization said cases of COVID-19 were rising in Argentina, among other countries in Latin America.

The recent surge in infections and hospitalisations has been spurred in part by the discovery of new, more easily transmissible variants of the virus across the region, including a strain first discovered in Brazil.

Argentina has reported more than 2.67 million cases of COVID-19 and at least 59,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Nevertheless, some business owners said they would not abide by the new restrictions in Buenos Aires.

“The president does what he has to do. I do not agree with these measures,” a 63-year-old bar owner named only as Marcelo in the neighbourhood of Almagro told the Reuters news agency. “Last year was very tough.”

Argentina has seen a steep rise in poverty during the pandemic.

The National Institute of Statistics and Census said earlier this month that about 12 million people in urban areas were unable to afford a basket of basic food or essential services in the second half of 2020.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies