The reopening

Despite a good early response Argentina has been hit hard by COVID-19.

On 3 March, the first case of Covid was verified in Argentina. For many weeks, infections and deaths remained at a low level, giving the illusion of an exemplary response.

Seven months on, the situation is quite different. At the end of October, Argentina had the highest daily deaths per million for several weeks (7.13 daily deaths per million), and has one of the highest total deaths per million (as of 2 October, 522 deaths per million inhabitants).

What happened? There are several hypotheses but one view is that the early, rapid quarantine lasted too long and now the population is exhausted by confinement. A senior official in the Ministry of Health explained, “The pandemic is not just a health crisis but it brings dire economic, institutional, social, educational and psychological consequences. After a strong initial quarantine, we should have opened up towards the end of May. Now it is too late.”

“After a strong initial quarantine, we should have opened up towards the end of May. Now it is too late.”

Senior official, Ministry of Health, Argentina

Others point to an erratic testing strategy with too few tests to quickly contain small outbreaks. Despite these claims, a renowned research scientist claims no country has an accurate testing strategy, “We don’t know how many infected people we have. Neither here nor anywhere else in the world. The instruments do not exist to measure the population accurately at scale.”

For its part, the government claims that these critics do not consider the state of Argentine health system, the health official explains, “The Argentine health system is better compared to neighbouring countries, but it was not prepared for a pandemic, the time that was gained with the early quarantine was very useful.”

What does the future look like? On the short-term, the economic environment makes further quarantine difficult, so the government has had to restart activities with very few restrictions. If cases start to rise again? A research scientist puts it bluntly, “As circulation increases, infections will increase. It is unavoidable. This has happened all over the world.”

“We have to learn to live with the virus … We cannot depend on a vaccine.”

Public health expert, Argentina

What about a vaccine? A public health expert in Argentina is sceptical, “We have to learn to live with the virus, increase testing, isolate outbreaks, protect the vulnerable and continue to insist on appropriate social behaviours. We cannot depend on a vaccine.”

The only good news is that, except in some very specific cases, the health system did not collapse.

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