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ARGENTINA | 04-04-2020 08:48

Government planning ‘gradual, staggered’ exit from lockdown

Health officials, CGT leadership confirm that government is studying ‘gradual’ lifting of measures when period of mandatory quarantine ends, as death toll from coronavirus pandemic rises to 42, with more than 1,300 infected.

The government confirmed Friday that it is planning a “gradual, staggered and careful” exit from ongoing nationwide lockdown, implying that some measures will remain in place after their scheduled end point of April 12.

Officials said at press time that 88 new cases of the novel Covid-19 coronavirus had been registered in Argentina, lifting the overall tally to 1,353. At least 80 patients remain in intensive care.

The Health Ministry’s daily update also revealed that five new deaths had been registered, two men (aged 87 and 72) and a woman (53) in Buenos Aires Province, a 60-year-old man in Chaco, and a 53-year-old male in Mendoza, lifting the death toll from the virus to 42.

Health Access Secretary Carla Vizzotti, speaking at the Health Ministry’s daily press conference, said Friday that a return to something resembling normality had to be “organised and realistic,” though widespread images of long lines of queues outside banks across the country yesterday cast a doubt over whether such a plan is possible.

As financial institutions opened their doors to retirees and those receiving social security benefits, footage of large groups of people was plastered across the nation’s screens – images that bore little resemblance to the intended effect of the social isolation measures put in place by President Alberto Fernández in mid-March.

Officials, in a desperate attempt to resolve the farce, said that banks would be open Saturday and Sunday for extended hours and introduced restrictions over when an individual can visit (certain days, based on the numbers on an individual’s DNI identification card).

ECONOMIC FEARS

Vizzotti’s comments came just two days after Health Minister Ginés González García, had remarked that a “gradual exit” from general quarantine was “necessary.”

Amid fears that the shutdown in economic activity could lead to a contraction of more than five percent of GDP this year – as predicted by Goldman Sachs this week – González García hinted government officials were assessing “what productive activities could restart” and looking at whether workers in some sectors are “less vulnerable” to the disease.

On Friday, the CGT umbrella union grouping confirmed that it would explore how its sectors could return to work soon after Easter.

“There was talk of the possibility of taking up tasks after Easter,” said union leader Héctor Daer, referring to a three-hour meeting with President Alberto Fernández at the Olivos presidential residence earlier in the day.

He indicated that the CGT’s leadership was in favour of returning to work and said a roundtable would be set up with workers, employers and healthcare professionals to explore “a gradual opening for different activities – without forgetting about the health of workers.”

“There is no need to create a funnel on the return to employment,” said Daer.

Tax revenue is deteriorating rapidly, falling in March for a second consecutive month, as the national quarantine impacts an economy which is already stuttering. The government needs more cash in order to restructure its debt and increase social spending to cope to deal with the pandemic.

LOCKDOWN SET TO END

The nationwide lockdown – which was extended by President Alberto Fernández last Sunday to midnight, April 12 – has been viewed as a success so far by the government, with Argentina’s infection curve indicating a rise in numbers that’s less steep than other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

Nevertheless, officials are aware that the country needs to get running again, with the poor and vulnerable set to feel the pinch.

“We are planning a gradual, staggered and careful exit, always protecting those [aged] over 60, people who are in danger,” said Vizzotti. ”This exit has to be organised and realistic.”

Speaking Friday morning, before the day’s figures had been updated, the secretary revealed that positive cases had now been recorded in 21 provinces nationwide. Crunching the number of cases confirmed with the authorities, the average age of those infected with Covid-19 is 45, with 61 years proving the average age of those deceased to date, she added.

In total, 48.5 percent of cases are considered “imported” or related to trips abroad, while the rest were infected by close contact with the returnees to the country or via community transmission. The virus is definitely circulating in Greater Buenos Aires and the provinces of Chaco and Tierra del Fuego, analysis has confirmed.

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