Sergio Barrera Ruiz, a 52-year-old pediatrician from Jujuy in Argentina, sees a local health crisis looming as the COVID-19 pandemic ripples out from Buenos Aires, the capital, and grips the nation’s less well-equipped provinces.
Jujuy, a region of about 770,000 people, like other parts of the nation has seen cases spike as nationwide deaths total 10,405. Total cases rose to 500,034 on Tuesday, with almost one in two tests coming back positive.
“Jujuy is in a health catastrophe, there are not enough intensive therapy beds, doctors are getting sick and patients are dying,” said Barrera Ruiz, who himself was infected with COVID-19 at work, where he said there were not enough medical personnel and an endless line of patients.
Argentina initially controlled the spread of the coronavirus with a tough quarantine beginning in the middle of March, but as economic pressures grew, restrictions were eased and infections soared, taking the nation to 10th in the world for number of cases.
Argentine Ministry of Health data showed that over the past month, the number of confirmed infections daily is almost half that of the number of tests carried out, one of the highest “positive” rates in the world along with Mexico and Bolivia.
For months, more than 90 percent of cases were concentrated in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area — home to almost one-third of Argentina’s population — while the provinces were mainly spared.
That has changed abruptly. The provinces now account for almost one-third of cases, with Cordoba, Santa Fe, Jujuy and Mendoza the most affected.
Experts link the increase in cases to the easing of a nationwide lockdown amid rising economic and political pressure on Argentine President Alberto Fernandez.
Argentina’s quarantine has been in place for almost 170 days in various forms.
About a dozen provinces have had to retighten restrictions due to the increase in infections. In some districts, health systems have collapsed, with neither the resources nor the personnel to support them.
“Two weeks ago, we were practically without cases, but when the quarantine was relaxed, the cases increased terribly. We are already at a limit of beds and resources,” said Raul Caraballo, a doctor in Santa Fe.
The rolling seven-day average number of cases in Argentina is about 10,000 per day, with about 200 daily deaths. There were a record 12,027 new confirmed cases on Tuesday.
“People relaxed a lot and contagions increased in Chaco,” said Adriana Perroni, an intensive care specialist in the northeastern province. “Here we are seeing a lot of deaths of younger people, especially in the healthcare field.”
Argentine Society of Intensive Care president Rosa Reina said that the rise in cases had been very abrupt, with provinces going from a few cases to having intensive care beds at more than 80 percent capacity.
“If we do not prevent more hospital admissions, it is very possible that we will very quickly become overwhelmed,” Reina said.
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