Masks will no longer be required outdoors in Argentina as the country’s government announced the lifting of almost all Covid restrictions following a dramatic fall in Covid cases and deaths in recent months.
“If the numbers of coronavirus infections continue like this, we could say we are experiencing the end of the pandemic,” said presidential cabinet chief Juan Manzur amid a flurry of measures including the return of football matches with stadiums at 50% capacity starting next month – just in time for the 3 October classic super-match between Argentina’s two longtime rivals Boca and River Plate teams.
“Today for us the Covid pandemic ends to a large extent,” government Covid adviser Luis Camera said in a radio interview. “The pandemic ends but the virus continues,” he said.
The announcements were met with cautious optimism by doctors on the frontline. “We’re at a very good place: at the hospital where I work we have not admitted a single Covid patient to intensive care for three weeks now – but I would not dare say the pandemic is over,” said intensive care doctor Arnaldo Dubin, a researcher and professor at La Plata University.
After a devastating surge of Covid cases earlier this year, numbers in Argentina have dropped rapidly – from a high of more than 41,000 new daily cases on 27 May to only 622 on Sunday, raising hopes that the Delta variant may have passed Argentina by – at least for the time being.
“Despite evidence of community circulation of the Delta variant it’s been 20 days since we last intubated somebody at our hospital,” said Vanina Edul, an intensive care doctor at the Buenos Aires city Fernández hospital. “We might be lucky and the dominance of the Manaus variant and the high vaccination rate may be keeping the Delta at bay.”
About 43% of Argentina’s population has been fully vaccinated so far. Argentina’s extremely high contagion rate, 5.24m cumulative cases, nearly 12% of the total population, may have provided additional immunity, doctors say.
The lifting of Covid restrictions came after the trouncing of the ruling Peronist party in Argentina’s open primaries on 12 September. In the polls, the more right-wing Juntos coalition, which strongly resisted Covid restrictions, took over 40% of the vote, compared to only about 30% by the Peronists, who as government have enforced highly unpopular restrictions.
With a view to the November midterm legislative elections, the Peronist defeat forced President Alberto Fernández, viewed as a progressive within his party, to replace ministerial posts with more right-wing Peronists, such as the new cabinet chief Manzur, who as former governor of Tucumán in 2019 supported a decision to force an 11-year-old rape victim to give birth via a caesarean section.