July 17, 2020 / 4:57 PM / 23 days ago

Argentina confirms highest daily coronavirus case load after easing restrictions

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s government announced on Friday it will gradually loosen a lockdown that has lasted nearly four months in and around Buenos Aires to stem the spread of coroanvirus, though it later confirmed its highest daily infection count since the pandemic began.

President Alberto Fernandez said the gradual return to normal life will happen in several stages, with the first stage lasting until Aug. 2.

In capital Buenos Aires, which has been under the tightest restrictions in the country since March 20, shops, hair salons and some professional services will re-open.

Outdoor recreation activities will also be permitted. Schools will remain closed while officials analyze options for re-opening, said Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, who joined Fernandez for the announcement from the presidential palace.

The government had come under pressure to begin reopening after facing criticism from opposition lawmakers and growing protests in the streets of Buenos Aires against the lengthy lockdown.

Later on Friday, the government reported 4,518 new cases of coronavirus, the highest daily count yet. The country now has 119,301 confirmed cases, with 2,178 deaths, according to official data, numbers that are relatively low compared to many of Argentina’s South American neighbors.

“The effort we made was very important ... We are among the countries with the fewest deaths,” Fernandez said, adding that the government could choose to tighten restrictions if infections increase again.

“We are very far from overcoming the problem. What matters to us is that the health system does not collapse,” he said.

The country went into national lockdown on March 20, with restrictions later eased in many parts of the country outside Buenos Aires. Its borders remain closed, though a ban on commercial flights is due to expire on Sept. 1.

Reporting by Nicolas Misculin and Jorge Otaola; Writing by Cassandra Garrison and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Cynthia Osterman

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