Oxygen tanks are lined up outside a hospital tent to treat coronavirus patients in the Argentine province of Jujuy. Sept 7, 2020. . / Gianni Bulacio

By Marina Lammertyn

BUENOS AIRES, Sept 8 (.) – Sergio Barrera Ruiz, a 52-year-old pediatrician from the northern province of Jujuy, has been ill with coronavirus for ten days after being infected at work, where there are not enough medical personnel and patients do not stop reach.

Like other Argentine provinces, Jujuy is beginning to suffer the consequences of the displacement of COVID-19 from the metropolitan area to the interior of the country, whose health system is less prepared to avoid deaths from the pandemic.

« Jujuy is in a health catastrophe, intensive care beds are not enough, doctors are getting sick and patients are dying, » said Barrera Ruiz about the hospital where he works, in the provincial capital.

After a situation that seemed controlled until months ago thanks to an early quarantine throughout the country, Argentina reached 488,007 cases and 10,179 accumulated deaths from coronavirus on Tuesday.

Almost 50% of coronavirus tests are yielding a positive result, according to the latest integrated surveillance bulletin published by the national government, which shows that the virus is far from being subdued.

For months, 90% of coronavirus cases were concentrated in the metropolitan area of ​​Buenos Aires -which is home to almost a third of the country’s population- and the other provinces accumulated just 10% of the national total of cases, according to data of the Ministry of Health.

But that percentage changed abruptly in recent weeks: the provinces now account for more than 30% of those infected by the virus. The central provinces of Santa Fe and Córdoba, and western Mendoza, which are among the richest districts in the country, are the most affected behind Buenos Aires and its suburbs.

« ABRUPT CLIMBING »

Experts attribute the exponential increase in cases to the relaxation of a quarantine that, with different levels of restrictions, has already taken almost 170 days.

Very strict at the beginning -in March-, social isolation has been widely released in most of the nation’s districts due to the demands of different sectors of the economy heavily punished by inactivity.

In recent days, however, more than 11 provinces had to tighten restrictions due to the huge increase in infections. In some districts, health systems collapsed, lacking the resources and staff to support them.

« Two weeks ago we were practically without cases but when the quarantine was relaxed the cases increased terribly. We are already at a limit point of beds and resources, » Raúl Caraballo, a doctor on duty in Santa Fe, told ..

The current average of cases in Argentina is approximately 10,000 per day, although the figure has been exceeded on several occasions.

« People relaxed a lot and contagions increased in Chaco, » said Adriana Perroni, an intensive care specialist in the northern province of Chaco. « Here we are seeing a lot of death of young people, especially in the field of health, » he added.

The Argentine Society of Intensive Care published an open letter last week in which it highlighted its concern and asked the population to stay at home.

« The escalation (of cases) was very abrupt. The provinces went from very few cases to having intensive therapies with more than 80% and an oversaturated workforce, » Rosa Reina, president of the Argentine Society of Intensive Care, told . .

« If we do not stop the admission to hospitals, it is very possible that we will become saturated in a very short term, » he added.

(Report by Marina Lammertyn ,; Additional report by Jorge Otaola ,; Edited by Nicolás Misculin)