Lara Arreguiz was 22 and spent nine hours in the hallway of Iturraspe Hospital in Santa Fe, Argentina, waiting for a place in intensive care. She had been diagnosed the day before and sent home. When she became ill again, her mother took her to the hospital, but there were no more intensive care beds.
Tired, the young woman stretched out on the ground and fell asleep. When they finally managed to get her to bed, it was too late – Lara died within hours.
The latest photo of the veterinary student asleep on the floor, covered in a denim jacket and her head supported by a bag, went viral on social media and opened up the acute pandemic situation in Argentina.
So far, Alberto Fernández’s government speech on the health crisis has repeated that even in the face of difficult times like the present one, there is no one without assistance. “They can criticize our measures to fight the pandemic, but the truth is that there are no images of people dying in queues, refrigerated trucks or mass graves in Argentina, as we have seen. sees in other countries, such as Ecuador and Peru, “said chef Santiago Cafiero, in a recent meeting with reporters.
Lara’s image and the surge in the number of Covid cases may soon call her words into question. “We are already operating at full capacity and with exhausted nurses and doctors. These images will not take long to become more and more frequent,” Claudio Belocopitt, owner of one of the leading health plans in France, told Folha. Argentina, Swiss Medical.
The numbers confirm a second wave that is much more serious than the first last year. On Tuesday (25), as Argentines celebrated Fatherland Day with their families, the country passed the 75,000 dead mark and recorded 576 deaths in a single day.
Although below the daily record (there were 745 deaths on May 18), the moving average for the past seven days is 470 – extremely high for a country of 44.9 million people. Since the start of the pandemic, 3,586,736 people have been infected and 75,056 have died from the coronavirus.
Last Friday (21), the government decreed a lockout valid until the 30th, which returns to the initial phase of confronting the crisis in the regions considered to be the most critical. The measures apply to the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, Rosario, Santa Fe, Córdoba, Mendoza and others. Only essential activities are allowed, only workers in those areas can use public transport, classes have been suspended, and restaurants only operate with delivery. It is also forbidden to drive between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The government has also closed 11 of the 17 major entrances to the city of Buenos Aires and placed traffic control on those that are open. To enter or exit you must show permission from the government, which not everyone has. Penalties for violators range from a fine to confiscation of the vehicle.
The difference with the rules adopted in 2020 is that at the time, the opposition and the government worked and communicated the decisions together. Now the president and the Peronists (who also govern the province of Buenos Aires and are in the majority in Congress) are much more politically weakened.
Fernández, who surpassed the 60% approval rate with the first severe measures against the pandemic, is now only 36.7% and faces almost daily protests in the center of the capital. The protests bring together, among other dissatisfied groups, unions against job cuts, nurses in the public system complaining about wage delays and social organizations demanding more plans to help those who cannot work because of of confinement.
According to Dr Adolfo Rubinstein, former Minister of Health, those who take to the streets in Argentina do not deny the gravity of the situation. “We don’t see a lot of denial, like there is in Brazil,” he says. “People here are tired of the long quarantines, the economic situation, the lack of vaccines. But the conspirators who are anti-vaccine and anti-science are in the minority.”
Among the errors pointed out by opponents of Fernández’s measures are the fact that the government did not sign a vaccine purchase contract from Pfizer last year, and the option of an almost one-time bet on the Russian laboratory Gamaleya, which is delaying the delivery of the 10 million doses of the Sputnik immunizer.
The lack of resources to help quarantined companies and the small amount paid to the poorest workers are also questioned. To top it off, there is a revolt over the scandal of vaccine diversion to politicians, in the case that has come to be known as the “vaccine carrier”.
The demoralization of the government is such that, after the announcement of the new confinement, thousands of people have decided to leave the city to go to the beach or to the countryside. In response, Security Minister Sabina Frederic announced that they would not be able to return until the restrictions ended – but she was refused by the population themselves, who returned anyway and he there was no way to control the huge flow.
In the opposition-controlled city of Buenos Aires, the head of government, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, has turned a blind eye to some tougher measures, allowing some businesses to operate with the door partially closed and restaurants to welcome customers. in salons, which is totally prohibited by the decree in force.
Besides the politicization of the health crisis, epidemiologists agree that the situation in Argentina is serious and tends to worsen due to the combination of the new variants with the spread of the virus, which is no longer concentrated in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, and increasing poverty., which affects 42% of the population.
“Poverty circulates the virus, because there is no way to avoid the concentration of people in humble communities who do not have the necessary hygiene elements”, explains doctor Carlos Javier Reggazoni, former president of PAMI (public health agency). .
For Reggazoni, the solution does not lie in the arrival of more vaccines, as the government announces, including those of AstraZeneca manufactured in collaboration with Mexico. There is a need, he says, to combine vaccination with other measures, such as containment and screening.
So far Argentina has applied one dose of the vaccine to 19.6% of the population and two doses to just 5.4%.
In the poor neighborhoods of greater Buenos Aires, the collapse of hospitals is already a reality. Although official government data indicates that there is 86% occupancy of ICUs in this region, a more chaotic situation is reported.
According to José Maria Malvido, director of infectology at Balestrini Hospital in La Matanza, for example, there are patients treated in makeshift beds in the corridors and examination rooms. “But these are not ICUs,” he said.
Contrary to official figures, the Argentine Society of Intensive Care says that in 11 provinces and in the city of Buenos Aires (which has provincial status), the occupancy rate of ICUs is over 90%.
The increase in cases is linked to several factors, according to Rubinstein. Among them, flexibility in the warmer months, greater mobility, social gatherings and the emergence of new variants. “But we cannot blame the virus for its mutation. If left unchecked, its nature is to mutate. What we need is to contain it before it produces variations.”
For him, greater coordination between countries in the region to jointly adopt border measures, including case detection, would make all the difference. “We don’t know how many variants there are. There are indications that the Manaus and the England ones have arrived, but there isn’t enough data on how many and where.”