Argentina partially reopens as it nears 5 million COVID-19 cases

By Lucila Sigal

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina eases restrictions on coronaviruses as infection and death rates decline, the government said on Friday, even as the South American nation approached 5 million cases with more than 107 000 deaths.

The government said its plan includes increasing the number of people who can meet in person, reopening schools and increasing the number of people allowed into the country to 1,700 per day from 1,000 currently.

“The more we vaccinate and take care of ourselves, the more we will be able to perpetuate these achievements and move forward in sustained and progressive openings,” President Alberto Fernandez said in a recorded televised message.

Vaccinations have increased in recent days after an increase in transmission of the virus last month in the dead of winter in the southern hemisphere, when more people were tempted to socialize indoors, away from the freezing winds coming in. of Antarctica.

Argentina, with a population of 45 million, adopted the plan after 10 straight weeks of declining cases and eight weeks of decreasing deaths.

However, medical experts warned of changes that made the pandemic appear to be over.

The most contagious Delta variant was likely to spread already within communities, neurologist Conrado Estol told Reuters, while also highlighting low levels of COVID-19 tests and double vaccination rates.

Argentina-based infectious disease specialist and scientist Jorge Geffner said some reopening measures were “irrational”. “There are a lot of statements coming out of the political sphere that make it look like we are post-pandemic and we are not.”

A second stage of reopening, depending on infection rates, would include greater capacity for closed-door rallies, unlimited participation in outdoor events, group trips for those fully vaccinated, and reopening of borders for receive vaccinated foreigners.

The program would eventually include the reopening of outdoor sporting events of great importance to a nation of football fans. But that will only happen if the number of cases continues to decline, Fernandez said.

In news that may convey optimism ahead of the November congressional election, Fernandez said he expects the economy to grow 7% this year after a three-year recession severely exacerbated by the pandemic in 2020.

“The vaccine is the best economic policy. Thanks to the vaccination, we recover,” he said.

The shortage of second doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, the most frequently administered vaccine in the country, has prompted Argentina to offer a second dose of the Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines.

About 25.84 million people have so far received a first dose, but only 7.98 million per second, according to official data.

(Reporting by Lucila Sigal; additional reporting Juan Bustamante; writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Aurora Ellis)

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