Northern Argentina, “red zone” of the epidemic

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After holding nearly 100 days without a COVID-19 case, Jujuy province, one of the poorest in Argentina, faces exponential increase in cases and doctors brace for risk of ‘collapse’ of the health system.

“The situation is critical. Some 93% of intensive care beds are occupied, ”explains Sergio Barrera Ruiz, doctor at Wecensalao Gallardo Hospital in Palpala and responsible for the Association of Argentinian Doctors.

“We are preparing for the collapse,” warns the doctor, predicting that “in two or three weeks, the peak will reach San Salvador”, the capital of this province bordering Bolivia, 1500 kilometers north of Buenos Aires . It has three “red zones” with high contamination rates.

“We hope that we do not have to choose which patient to put on oxygen or on a ventilator,” worries Marcelo Villa, director of Paterson Hospital in San Pedro, the second largest city in the province. He himself has been contaminated.

Jujuy province registered 250 new COVID-19 cases and ten deaths on Friday, bringing the number of cases in that province to 5,874 and deaths to 165, according to the health ministry. A drop in the bucket, compared to national figures, of 329,000 cases and 6,730 deaths.

But the authorities are worried about the surge in cases in this province of 719,000 inhabitants, which admittedly has less than 2% of the 44 million Argentines, but now comes in second place behind Buenos Aires (which has nearly 90% of case).

Until June 10, the province of Jujuy had only six cases. But the 1er July, the balance had already risen to 97 and the 1er August to 2,347 infections.

30% of caregivers infected

Added to this is the fact that 30% of healthcare workers have been infected. Jujuy therefore lacks doctors in intensive care, in addition to the failures of protective equipment, oxygen and respiratory assistance equipment, warns the Association of Doctors.

The province has already received reinforcements from health professionals on two occasions and the government is now offering doctors contracts of 200,000 pesos for 15 days of work, more than triple the average monthly salary for this position.

Among the three “red zones” of the province is Ledesma, where the sugar factory of the powerful Blaquier family is located. It has never stopped production despite 300 cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths among its 3,150 workers.

Another “red zone” concerns Susques, a sparsely populated mining region where lithium mining has not stopped either.

The governor of the province, Gerardo Morales, himself contaminated, belongs to the opposition coalition of former President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), which supported the protests against containment.

Accusing Gerardo Morales, governor since 2015, of the poor health situation in the province, several union and political organizations in Jujuy have asked President Alberto Fernandez for “direct and immediate intervention” to “assume the direction of the public health system”. In vain.

On June 3, Governor Morales visited the border town of La Quiaca with around ten officials and around 30 police officers. During the visit, two officers are accused of having traveled to the neighboring Bolivian town of Villazon to buy coca leaves. The two agents, infected, then infected the other police officers of the delegation.

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