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World’s longest lockdown didn’t avoid a coronavirus disaster in Argentina

and . Sep 26, 2020
argentina lockdown "It's not a pandemic, it's a dictatorship," reads sign of anti-lockdown protester. Photo: Mariano Gaspar/Shutterstock

Argentina was one of the first Latin American countries to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with the government placing the country under lockdown by March 20 — even before European countries such as Germany. And, while most of the world has already returned to some version of normalcy, around 30 percent of Argentina’s population is still adhering to restrictive measures — even if many people stopped abiding by these rules — in what is the world’s longest lockdown.

However, that hasn’t prevented a major surge in new daily coronavirus cases and deaths, with the country posting much higher figures per million people than neighbors Brazil — deemed to be Latin America’s textbook example of how not to deal with a pandemic.

</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3819380" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3819380/embed" aria-label=""><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3819331" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3819331/embed" aria-label=""><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>How effective was the lockdown?</h2> <p>As our <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2020/08/26/six-months-of-the-coronavirus-in-latin-america-podcast/">Explaining Brazil podcast</a> discussed, having responsible leadership that takes all medically-accepted measures is no guarantee of success in countries defined by structural inequality. And nowhere in the world is as unequal as Latin America.&nbsp;</p> <p>The region has seen a wave of informal employment in recent years. In Argentina, the problem has always existed — and nearly half of all workers <a href="https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/128134/1/bpd39.pdf">are in unregistered jobs</a>. These workers often rely exclusively on the in-person economy, and it doesn&#8217;t take long before circulation bans smother their way of living.&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;Despite its length, Argentina&#8217;s lockdown was never <em>really</em> enforced, as many people depend on leaving their homes to provide for their families,&#8221; says Gustavo Montero, a public health expert at the University of Buenos Aires. &#8220;Plus, once the virus reached poor and peripheral regions, as it would invariably, the epidemic would derail due to social, housing, and economic imbalances,&#8221; he tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>Besides structural problems that predate the coronavirus, the current crisis saw millions left out of work. Per the International Labor Organization, more than 47 million positions were closed due to the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>With that scenario, keeping people at home — sometimes facing starvation — was almost impossible.</p> <h2>Argentina was already in recession</h2> <p>The never-ending lockdown has also taken a huge economic toll on the country. Argentina has been in recession since 2018 — and the halting of the in-person economy for months has caused a massive GDP slump.</p> <p>Argentina’s official statistics agency (Indec) says the country’s<a href="https://www.indec.gob.ar/uploads/informesdeprensa/pib_09_203A30C37E8E.pdf"> GDP dropped 19.1 percent in Q2 2020</a> when compared to the same period in 2019. That is a bigger skid than during the 2002 crisis — when <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/07/20/argentina-faces-worst-economic-crisis-since-the-2001-corralito/">Argentina faced economic collapse</a> and had five presidents in a two-week period.</p> <p>Despite the government&#8217;s early measures to prevent massive layoffs, the unemployment rate has risen from 10.4 to 13.1 percent between Q1 and Q2. “The [unemployment] numbers largely reflect the impact on labor market dynamics from the Covid-19 pandemic and from the restrictions on certain activities and movement,” Indec said in a report.</p> <p>Indeed, entering the Covid-19 crisis while hamstrung by economic hardship was always going to be a recipe for disaster in Argentina. Speaking to the Financial Times, Andrés Borenstein, an economist in Buenos Aires, lamented that &#8220;the government had no resources to fight the crisis except [printing money].&#8221;</p> <p>Meanwhile, President Alberto Fernández claims the country is no longer under strict lockdown, but has constantly threatened to reinstate the most restrictive measures should the virus spread continue.

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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