BUENOS AIRES – Seven months of restrictions have not managed to bend the coronavirus infection curve in Argentina, a country that now is nearing one million confirmed cases without any end in sight, with 26,267 COVID-19 deaths so far and an economic and social situation that is steadily becoming more critical.
According to the latest figures from the national Health Ministry, the South American country has registered 989,680 confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which about 804,000 have recovered and another 159,500 are still “active.”
Thus, and taking into account the average number of newly confirmed cases each day for the past seven days has been 13,639, Argentine most probably will exceed on Monday the one million case threshold, thus becoming the second Latin American country and the fifth country worldwide to break that barrier.
The restrictions implemented by the government on March 20 managed to control the spread of COVID-19, as other countries in the region – namely Peru, Chile and Brazil – saw their cases and deaths increase out of control during the first months of the pandemic, and Argentina limited the outbreak to the Buenos Aires metro area, the most densely populated part of the country.
Yet, the virus ultimately spread beyond the capital metro zone and little by little permeated to all the interior provinces, many of which in June abandoned the “preventive and obligatory social isolation” phase in favor of greater flexibility, known as “preventive and obligatory social distancing.”
Although in June the Argentine capital and its populous urban belt contained more than 90 percent of the country’s coronavirus cases, now that zone has just 27.5 percent of the cases and the provinces represent 72.5 percent of the newly confirmed cases, with Santa Fe, Cordoba and Tucuman leading in that dire statistic.
In the case of the capital, Buenos Aires reached the “peak” of its infection curve in August and since then the curve has slowly declined, with just 517 positive tests on Sunday, thus becoming the only region, along with the provinces of Salta and Jujuy, where the number of cases is clearly falling in recent days.
“The curve has been in a slow but systematic decline since the last week of August up to today,” Buenos Aires Health Minister Fernan Quiros said on Monday.
Currently, Argentina is among the Latin American countries where the pandemic is spreading fastest, a reality to which must be added the high number of daily deaths since the beginning of September.
In fact, according to the Our World in Data Web page, which is run by Oxford University, Argentina is the country worldwide with the highest number of deaths per million residents over the past seven days, with a figure of eight, placing it significantly ahead of the Czech Republic (4.76), Israel (4.11), Colombia (3.21), Iran (3.11), Mexico (2.68) and Spain (2.58).
Over the past week, Argentina registered 2,882 deaths from COVID-19, with a daily average of 412.
Another alarming figure is the current rate of infection (the percentage of positive test results compared to the total number of tests). Since the pandemic began, Argentina has performed 2,373,496 COVID-19 tests and 43.81 percent of them have been positive, according to the national Health Ministry in its morning report on Monday.
Yet another alarming figure as of Sunday was the number of confirmed cases (10,561) versus the total tests performed (13,890), or 76 percent, exceeding by far the 10 percent threshold recommended by the World Health Organization to certify that enough testing is being done.
In any case, the health situation is not the only crisis besetting Argentina, which since mid-2018 has been in an economic recession aggravated by the isolation measures imposed to control the pandemic.
The figures speak for themselves: the economy plunged 19.1 percent on an interannual basis between April and June, unemployment increased to 13.1 percent during the same period and the poverty index exceeded 40 percent in the first six months of this year, five points higher than at the end of 2019.
In addition, since mid-September, Argentina has been dealing with growing exchange rate tension with a gap opening up between the official and informal dollar rate of greater than 100 percent, raising fears of a possible devaluation of the Argentine peso.
This entire panorama led the International Monetary Fund to downgrade its forecast for 2020. According to the multilateral organization, the Argentina economy will contract by 11.8 percent this year, instead of the 9.9 percent predicted in June.