March 26, 2020 / 5:11 PM / 13 days ago

Lives or the economy? Argentina's Fernandez says growth comes second amid virus spread

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine President Alberto Fernandez said on Thursday that saving lives would take precedence over protecting the economy from the impact of coronavirus, which is likely to push the country deeper into recession this year.

FILE PHOTO: Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez looks on durring the session of the 138th legislative term at the National Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

The center-left Peronist had earlier joined a call of G20 leaders to discuss the global response to the pandemic which has led to the deaths of over 20,000 people worldwide and is now starting to spread around Latin America.

“Faced with the dilemma of preserving the economy or life, we do not hesitate: we choose life,” Fernandez said in a tweet after the video conference where he had called for a global humanitarian emergency fund to help tackle the pandemic.

Countries around the world are grappling with the dual health and economic crises that have been sparked by the spread of coronavirus, which emerged in China before hitting Europe and now the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said he wants the country’s economy to reopen by Easter Sunday on April 12, despite the rapid spread of coronavirus in some U.S. states and a rising death toll.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has aligned himself with Trump in prioritizing the economy over the shutdowns favored by public health experts - including his own health minister.

According to a readout of his comments, Fernandez said on the call that the world needed “extraordinary” solutions to deal with the crisis including a fund helping countries “be better equipped with supplies to deal with the current context.”

He added he welcomed the fact that global bodies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) - a major lender to Argentina - had recognized that the debt burdens facing certain countries were unsustainable.

Argentina is in the midst of tense restructuring negotiations involving almost $70 billion in foreign debt and a further $44 billion from a credit facility extended by the IMF in 2018.

“The time of the greedy has come to an end,” Fernandez said. “As Pope Francis teaches, we need to let the scales fall off our eyes and hearts in order to act with a new sensibility.”

(This story adds dropped “billion” in ninth paragraph)

Reporting by Adam Jourdan and Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Alistair Bell

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