Argentina Reopens Amid Political Crisis

Argentina Reopens Amid Political Crisis

Argentina is pivoting from one of the world’s strictest pandemic lockdowns to arguably one of its fastest reopenings.

Argentina reopens its gates

A fast-improving vaccination campaign and political urgency are unlocking the gates to South America’s second largest nation. Starting Oct. 1, fully vaccinated residents of nations bordering Argentina can enter without quarantine, and by Nov. 1 all foreigners can visit to hit the famed steakhouses — with two shots and a negative PCR test. Social gatherings will have no capacity limits, and the national government isn’t requiring masks for people walking outside.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for President Alberto Fernandez, who shut down all domestic and international travel in 2020. Public parks closed, and children could barely go outside — even as Fernandez generated controversy by hosting a secret birthday party. Flight maps showing planes circulating everywhere except Argentina went viral. Even as restrictions fluctuated, foreign tourism has been entirely prohibited since March 2020. And in June of this year, the government allowed only 600 people per day to arrive via international flights.

The good news: Argentina is picking up the pace of vaccinations. Nearly 46% of Argentines are fully vaccinated, well ahead of regional neighbors Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. In the 18-and-older cohort, over 60% of citizens have both shots. It’s welcome news in Argentina, which has one of the world’s highest death rates per million.

But vaccinations aside, the sudden reopening may have more to do with politics than epidemiology. Fernandez’s coalition got crushed in a primary midterm election on Sept. 12, exposing internal tensions with his powerful vice president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and her more radical wing. Before the general midterm vote on Nov. 14, Fernandez is rushing to convince Argentines that life is returning to normal and better times are ahead.

It’s a steep challenge: On top of the pandemic, Argentina is emerging from three straight years of recession, shackled with 50% inflation, high unemployment and a record $45 billion debt bill due to the International Monetary Fund.

Fernandez overhauled his cabinet last week to take the election strategy in a new direction. Even though his government made the mistake of downplaying the pandemic in early 2020 and then by not budgeting for it this year, his new cabinet chief, Juan Manzur, rolled out the reopening measures on Tuesday, promising this time is different.

“We’re going through the last stage of the pandemic,” Manzur said.—Patrick Gillespie es un sitio web oficial del Gobierno Argentino