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ARGENTINA | 20-03-2020 14:55

President Alberto Fernández's letter to Argentines on coronavirus shutdown

Read President Alberto Fernández's letter to the Argentine people, detailing the motives for his decision to order a nationwide lockdown in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Late Thursday night, President Alberto Fernández delivered a historic speech announcing his government’s decision to decree “preventive and obligatory social obligation" nationwide, which was followed by a letter to the Argentine people, detailing the motives for his decision.

Below the complete message:

Dear people of Argentina,

The world is facing a threat and Argentina is also at risk. The Coronavirus pandemic is expanding at tremendous speed in many countries. It’s the most serious health problem we’ve had in all our democratic life.

I’ve just decreed preventive and obligatory social obligation for the entire population – an exceptional decision for exceptional times.

Our maximum responsibility is to protect Argentine society. After listening to the experts, the political parties and the governors, I have therefore decided:

To restrict circulation. Each and every one of us should stay home. Nobody need panic, we need serenity. But we must all take responsibility and comply with the obligation to isolate ourselves. Everybody will be able to go to nearby shops to buy food, medicine, toiletries and detergents for hygiene. Shoppers must remember to respect the minimum distances from other people.

I’ve decided to bring forward the April 2 public holiday, a day so important for our country, to March 31. That day will mark the culmination of a temporary isolation which will begin midnight Thursday.

Traffic will be restricted both on national highways and within every city nationwide. Only in exceptional circumstances will transfers be permitted, apart from the traffic which will continue to guarantee indispensable production, food supplies, health services and all essential services. Public transport for passengers will be maintained only for the use of those exempted from isolation. ATMs and cash transfer systems will also be maintained.

We will discourage people from jumping into their cars and circulating. The motives of any person or car out on the streets will be verified and those who cannot justify themselves will be punished.

The evolution of this situation will be constantly evaluated by experts, scientific associations and the government. We are guided by the wisdom of that folk saying: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Always better too soon than too late.

In the last 10 days we have adopted some 30 anticipatory measures and key actions to meet this crisis, reducing the speed of contagion, reinforcing the health system, attending to workers, pensioners and the most vulnerable groups, protecting the PyMEs small and medium-sized firms. 

All these measures have also been complemented by mayors, governors, private companies, trade unions, NGOs and volunteers in general in moves aimed at two priorities: guaranteeing public health as much as possible and mitigating the adverse social and economic effects on production.

Throughout the world the struggle against the expansion of Coronavirus has two protagonists: the state and the people. The commitment of the citizenry is decisive since it is scientifically proven that the observation of the hygiene and isolation recommendations have a significant impact on whether the contagion grows or not.

In this pandemic we look after ourselves by staying home with the maximum reduction of social contact and traffic.

It’s a battle against an invisible enemy to save lives. If society were indifferent to this threat, most Argentines would be infected with coronavirus, according to the scientists.

In the face of this crisis there is no room for individualistic attitudes, we need to maintain social distance by not leaving our homes. No measure will achieve the desired impact if the need to follow the recommendations and these new norms is not understood. We are co-responsible in the face of this threat.

Our destiny depends on each and every one of us.

I’m calling on everybody to carry their own responsibility to an extreme. My own responsibility is to guarantee that the state takes care of the health and lives of all Argentines.

That’s why the security forces will strictly enforce all the norms to protect the entire Argentine population. The state will be implacable with all those placing the health of Argentines at risk. I will rigorously enforce the law to save lives. We will be strict in ensuring that we are looking after our people.

In Argentina we are still in time to avoid this pandemic becoming uncontrollable but for that we need everybody’s commitment. The message is clear: the less movement and contact, less contagion. Let us all look after each other by being extremely responsible.

Isolation implies enormous changes in our daily lives, defying our capacity to stay at home in co-existence with others. We face a challenge with detected cases rising in the next few days, as the experts have already informed us.

But we must realise that the measures we are adopting today will have positive effects further down the road.

The aim is that the pandemic be governable with the increase in infected cases being compatible with our health system.

At certain moments, these battles will seem hard to win. You can be sure that as from today the Argentine state commits itself to never weakening our collective struggle, never.

This health emergency requires we Argentines to recognise and value each other as a community. To value the nurses, doctors and all the health staff who are already facing up to this pandemic. Value those whose labour built our hospitals. Value those who produce food and those who work to put sufficient food on the table for the children and families most in need. Value the members of the military and security forces who enforce the law and co-operate with logistical tasks.

Value the trade unions and companies which lend their support to increase attention in the emergency health system. Value the media, the technological entrepreneurs and scientists who are looking for creative ways to face up to this unexpected situation.

Value each and every once. Each one of us depends on the other, the neighbour, the shopkeeper, the transport worker, those who perform domestic services whether paid or unpaid.

We are one community and we’re going to give battle, we’re going to mobilise all our forces as an Argentine community. It will be a battle requiring effort, calm, tolerance, solidarity and co-operation. And a lot of responsibility.

This will be the most demanding test which Argentina has had so far this century. In this struggle we need to produce cultural changes, altering habits. We will have to suspend many things we enjoyed, such as sipping mate or hugging each other, for a while. And perhaps we may be able to change other things which we in reality suffered forever. Now we will put all our social, religious and political efforts into working together on the same side.

Only unity will permit us to conquer in this moment. We are a community. Coronavirus attacks us all, without distinction and we will respond without distinctions – a united Argentina to face this challenge. Responsibility, solidarity and community are the watchwords, words of communication and encounter.

This decision is strongly democratic. It is a democracy which appeals to exceptional measures on the basis of its own legislation for these cases. It is a democracy which unites political, social, labour, productive and religious forces, as well as the authorities of every jurisdiction. It is a democracy which seeks to reduce the damage to the people and save the greatest number of lives possible.

This decision is not a vaccine nor a miraculous solution. Perhaps some people are expecting a miracle from the state of emergency and that all will be resolved in a minute, a day a week or a month. 

I haven’t come to make any impossible promises in the face of the emergency. Our support is the knowhow of our scientists, experts from around the world, the World Health Organisation, information which all the countries transmit to us.

We know, as I said, that in the next few years these cases will increase. But we also know that our aim is that the contagion does not take off exponentially. Our objective is the least possible damage and to save as many lives as possible, mobilising all our energy and our capacities to achieve it.

This decision does not replace our daily struggle, the national health system and the capacities of the families to try and limit the contagion.

It will be a struggle lasting months which we will be evaluating permanently.

Next month there will be much at stake regarding the evolution of the contagion in the country. It’s an unequal struggle against this invisible enemy.

There’s an immense logistical challenge: we need as many beds, artificial respirators, medical and paramedical staff, food, hygiene and shelters as possible to have the instruments permitting us to combat this  global pandemic.

Lives and health also require looking after the economy. To that end we have adopted measures to support the most affected companies, and to  protect workers and the most vulnerable.

We will continue producing. Nobody should enter into panic. The measures to reduce the contagion are compatible with maintaining our food supplies and our economy.

Apart from coronavirus, there are other invisibles enemies such as social dismay in the face of a long struggle. Speaking in this 2020 Year of General Manuel Belgrano, I was elected to be President of all the Argentines both in better and worse times.

We’re going into isolation for a while to save each other, to save our children, our grandparents. To save others.

I want to confess something to you. These days when I see doctors, nurses, workers, professionals, administrative staff making efforts to cope with this situation, countless times I have felt the urge to hug them. Not only could I not do that but I won’t be able to do it soon. Let’s face this as a responsible society. We know it’s going to hit us.

Let’s work to reduce the damage. If we make it, we can look each other in the eye, be proud of each other as a society and, yes, then, hug each other. 

We’re Argentina and we’ll overcome this enormous challenge which History has imposed on us.

Thank you very much,

Alberto Fernández.

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