The government’s decree is clear enough – blanket isolation until mid-April. Yet there are thousands of people in Argentina with nowhere to go.
In a country where over a third of the population lives in poverty, it’s difficult for those living rough to protect themselves from a sanitary crisis.
Few people are to be seen in the streets of Buenos Aires, which has been virtually empty since President Alberto Fernández announced a lockdown of the entire country from March 20 to 31, later extended to April 12.
Some sleep in the doorways of banks and shops. They say that shelters are overcrowded. Some of them denounce police brutality, saying they have been moved on from the spot in the city where they have often lived for years.
“Now we can no longer sell cardboard,” explains Richard, a Uruguayan who has spent six of the last 45 years in the street. He says that his group’s relationship with the police has been good up to now.
He says he’s not afraid of being infected. “We’re afraid of hunger and of nothing else, not even coronavirus.”
Emilio Sebastián Barcia,28, is the newest member of the group. He’s been on the streets for three months, after losing his job as a cook.
“At first I installed myself in front [of my old workplace]. I was desperate and hungry and from there I got to know this group. Now with everything going on around coronavirus, if you were to leave me alone in the corner, I would die.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, City Hall has accelerated its plans to transfer the homeless to other refuges such as sporting centres – three have been equipped – or hotels alongside the existing shelters. The authorities assure that around 700 people have already been taken off the streets, but that still leaves thousands more.
According to official data, there were 1,146 street people in Buenos Aires last year.
For around four years, Edgardo Gabriel Villalba, 37, has been living with his two friends Claudio and Dani in Plaza San Martín, close to the monument paying tribute to the liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru.
“I became homeless because of a disease, namely AIDS,” he recounts.
Edgardo feels lost among the advice and government slogans.
“They never explained to us what we have to do... the police come along and chase you away,” he says, showing off bruises he says were a result of police blows.
The trio frequently go to the Corazón Eucarístico de Jesús Church, just a few metres away, to pick up a daily plate of food. But sometimes they don’t arrive in time and sometimes there’s not enough food.