By Marina Lammertyn and Miguel Lobianco
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, Tues. Oct 6, 2020 (Reuters) – One Latin American nation has the world’s highest COVID-19 positive rate and it is not Brazil.
Argentina has the world’s highest rate of positive COVID-19 tests, according to Oxford-linked tracker Our World In Data, with nearly six out of 10 yielding an infection, a reflection of low testing levels and loose enforcement of lockdown rules.
Argentina was set to hit 800,000 confirmed cases on Monday, with an seven-day rolling average of around 12,500 new daily infections. The country, which started strongly against the virus, passed 20,000 fatalities last week.
Medical professionals said low-levels of testing and lax restrictions had propelled the high positive rate, that climbed from around 40% in August to just shy of 60% in the last week, a Reuters calculation using health ministry data shows.
“Is there isolation? There is none. Are there (enough) tests? No there aren’t,” Carlos Kambourian, a pediatrician in the city of Buenos Aires, told Reuters.
By comparison, New York state has a population of 20 million, less than half of Argentina’s 45 million, yet carries out 100,000 tests a day, four times the number in Argentina. In New York state, the positive rate is a bit over 1%.
Argentina’s government won plaudits for a tough early lockdown that began March 20, but since then has been forced to loosen restrictions to help revive an economy already in recession for two years and as poverty levels and unemployment have risen.
Kambourian added that there had been little in way of strengthening health services: “Certainly the strategies to stop a this type of pandemic aren’t being applied,” he added.
A source from Argentina’s health ministry said the large number of positive tests was a result of its “DetectAr” program, where testing focuses on contacts of those known to be infected. The government had pledged to raise testing levels.
Argentina has the eighth most COVID-19 cases in the world, and is currently in the top five for rolling 7-day average new cases and fatalities. Latin America has been the hardest hit region of the world in terms of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
(Reporting by Marina Lammertyn and Miguel Lobianco; Editing by Adam Jourdan and David Gregorio)