Argentina lives two simultaneous and contradictory statistical records. The summer season began in January with tourist centers across the country at capacity limits; At the same time, the number of infections by covid-19 has skyrocketed to figures never reached since March 2020, when the pandemic started. The government of Alberto Fernández is torn between controlling the spread of the virus with more restrictions or encouraging travel, and the movement of people, to save a sector that has been on the brink of collapse for two years. He has opted for the latter.
This Wednesday, the Ministry of Health reported 95,159 positive cases of coronavirus, the highest number ever reached for a single day. The previous one had been registered on Tuesday, when the infections reached 81,210. The positivity rate among those tested has also been extremely high: 52%, five times more than the 10% recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). It can be assumed, then, that the cases are many more. Argentine authorities are confident that high vaccination rates will keep the epidemiological situation under control, with intensive care beds almost unoccupied by the covid and deaths at a minimum. On the record day, the victims barely exceeded fifty. 84% of Argentines have at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, 72.9% have two and 14% have already received a third booster.
As the cases grow, the Casa Rosada puts money from the State to promote tourism. The PreTravel plan has invested 50,000 million pesos this year, about 463 million dollars at the official exchange rate, in refunds. The system is simple: the Government gives the domestic tourist a credit of 50% of what they spend on travel agencies, accommodation or tickets. The returned money is loaded onto a card that the user can use to cancel expenses on their next trip. The Minister of Tourism, Matías Lammens, considered the system “the most important public policy in the history of tourism, among other things, because it launched a very important sector in the economy at the most difficult moment.” “It is a fundamental tool to strengthen regional economies and promote a distribution of resources with a federal perspective,” he said. The movement of tourists this year is between 20% and 25% higher than in the two years prior to the pandemic, according to official data.
Hotel occupancy in the busiest Atlantic resorts in Argentina, such as Mar del Plata and Villa Gesell, in the province of Buenos Aires, is close to 100%. The same happens in other popular destinations, such as Bariloche, the Córdoba mountains or the Iguazú Falls. Argentine paradoxes, it is not only the Pre-Trip that is responsible for the record. When the crisis worsens, and the peso loses its value every day, as now, domestic tourism experiences its best seasons. With no dollars to spend abroad, those who normally choose Miami, Punta del Este in Uruguay or Europe prefer to spend their pesos at home. The problem is that this year, the tourist record coincides with the worst moment of the pandemic in Argentina.
The Minister of Health of the province of Buenos Aires, Nicolás Kreplak, said Tuesday that to prevent the situation from getting out of control, they are doing “a weekly review of the epidemiological situation.” On Monday there were “record cases in the province. In seven weeks we had 2,100% more cases. We have almost 30,000, but the number of cases has been dissociated with the severity of the pictures. There have been no significant increases in hospitalizations, ”Kreplak said during a press conference in Villa Gesell, by the sea. In addition to the Minister of Health, there was the Minister of Production, Augusto Costa, evidence of the challenge they face. “From an activity point of view, we have a record season. It is a conquest and we have to guarantee that it is sustained, ”he said. Reducing the movement of people, closing restaurants or limiting capacity in tourist centers is not on the authorities’ agenda. “Vaccination allows us that the pressure of the health system has nothing to do with that of last year. Today we have other perspectives on the activity and the season ”, added Costa.
To maintain the momentum of Pre-Trip, the Government added another incentive: it froze the prices of tourist services until March 15. With 50% annual inflation, it is not easy for Argentines to anticipate their vacation expenses. Meanwhile, the testing centers in the spas are collapsed. People wait up to three hours in line for a free antigen test. Everything is for a little sun.
Sign up here for the EL PAÍS América newsletter and receive all the information on current events in the region.