BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina will extend until April 27 the lockdown it imposed last month to control the spread of the coronavirus, President Alberto Fernandez said in a televised address on Friday, adding that the measure would be applied only in major cities.
Most Argentines live in metropolitan areas like Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Cordoba. The country has wide expanses of sparsely populated agricultural area including the Pampas farm belt, which has made Argentina a top world food exporter.
“The situation will remain the same in all major cities,” Fernandez said. The lockdown, which started on March 20, has slowed the spread of the virus and remains the best way of controlling the pandemic, he added.
“We have managed to flatten the curve of new infections,” he said. Argentina has had 1,975 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far, of which 82 have been fatal, according to official data.
“Without the lockdown we could have had 45,000 cases by now,” Fernandez said. “The lockdown has not been in vain.”
The country’s banks will resume normal activity, albeit under strict health protocols, on Monday, the president said.
Latin America’s No. 3 economy had already been in recession long before the outbreak of the pandemic, which hit just as Argentine farmers were starting to bring in the country’s all-important soy and corn crops and the government was initiating restructuring talks with the holders of Argentine bonds.
Tax revenue is drying up and government subsidy spending is spiking higher as the lockdown continues. But Fernandez said public health will remain a higher priority than the economy over the weeks ahead.
“You can restore gross domestic product but you cannot restore a life once it has been lost. Right now my biggest problem is not public spending, it is the health of Argentines,” Fernandez said.
(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Sandra Maler)