Argentina set to hit one million coronavirus cases as recent spike strains healthcare system

·2-min read
Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Buenos Aires
Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina is on track to become the fifth country in the world to exceed one million coronavirus cases, which would make it the smallest nation by far to reach the grim milestone, after infections accelerated in recent weeks.

There were over 989,000 cases of the virus in the South American country by Sunday night, according to health ministry data. With a rolling daily average over 13,000 cases, that number is expected to top the million mark on Monday.

That would put it alongside the United States, India, Brazil, and Russia, all with far larger populations than Argentina's 45 million people.

The country is also grappling with low levels of testing. But for those getting tested, more than 60% of recent tests are coming back positive, one of the world's highest positivity rates.

The explosion in cases has strained hospitals and healthcare works, with intensive care unit beds in the country more than 64% occupied. In some provinces, healthcare systems are on the brink of becoming overwhelmed.

"I would like this to end now. I cannot continue at this pace," said Cynthia Jiménez, a resident intensive care doctor at Hospital Posadas in Buenos Aires province, the hardest hit area of the country.

Graphic - Argentina COVID-19 infections:

"It tires you to see people who come ill with respiratory failure and you have to save them," she added. "And you know that if you intubate them, it will end badly for many. That hurts."

Argentina imposed strict quarantine measures on March 20, shortly after the country's first COVID-19 case was confirmed, which initially helped slow the virus' spread.

The government has since eased restrictions in many parts of the country to help revive economic growth, leading to a rise in infections. More than 26,000 people have died, with a COVID-19 fatality rate of about 2.7%, according to health ministry data.

Argentina's borders remain closed to tourism, though domestic flights have resumed for people with government approval to travel for medical, family or work reasons.

Graphic - Testing positive Testing positive:

(Reporting by Horacio Soria and Marina Lammertyn; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Bill Berkrot)