Argentina will go into strict lockdown starting this weekend, for the first time this year after more than 35,000 coronavirus infections were reported for the third straight day and the death toll soared.
The measures will last from Saturday until May 31, and will limit circulation and suspend social, business, educational, religious and sporting activities. Workers with essential jobs will be exempt from the measures.
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“We are living the worst moment since the pandemic began,” President Alberto Fernandez said in a message broadcast by the national TV channel on Thursday. “We are seeing the highest numbers of cases and deaths. We must take this critical situation seriously and not naturalise so much tragedy.”
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Argentina imposed one of the longest quarantines between March and July, when it began to ease the restrictions. The negative effects of the lockdown on the economy and national mood left the government with little room to move now, but the combination of few vaccine doses and more contagious variants of the virus has put Argentina’s health sector on the verge of collapse.
On Tuesday, the South American country exceeded its daily record of virus infections and COVID-19 deaths with 35,543 new cases and 745 deaths. The subsequent days saw similar high infection rates.
Overall, Argentina has seen 3.4 million confirmed coronavirus infections and more than 72,000 deaths, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
The surge comes amid high numbers in the region.
On Wednesday, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said that three out of the five countries in the world with the highest numbers of new infections are in the Americas: Brazil, the United States and Argentina.
But while the infections rate is dropping in the US, thanks to significant progress in its vaccination campaign, rates in Argentina are rising amid an insufficient supply of doses.
According to Our World in Data, 18 percent of Argentina’s population has received at least one dose, on par with Brazil, where infection rates remain high.
Fernandez said that after May 31, pandemic measures will return to their current level: a curfew from 8pm to 6am and social, recreational and commercial activities will be banned in closed spaces. In addition, a strict confinement will be mandatory for the weekend of June 5-6.
“It is vital that the authority of each jurisdiction apply the rules that we are dictating. There is no room for speculation or doubt,” said Fernandez, criticising governors for not ensuring compliance with measures previously ordered.
The president said there will be economic aid for the sectors affected by the new restrictions and confirmed that in the next few days more than four million doses of Sputnik V and AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive.