When I landed at the airport in Buenos Aires on May 23rd to begin my summer, I thought it very strange that all passengers were required to fill out forms related to symptoms that they were experiencing that could possibly be associated with the Swine Flu (or "La Gripe A" in Spanish). I thought it even more peculiar that when we got off of the plane, we had to pass a very short doctor inspection and pass through a body temperature machine before we could be admitted into the country. I even remember remarking to the man sitting next to me on the plane that I didn't understand the need for all these precautions considering the Swine Flu wasn't a major problem in Argentina. He concurred and pointed out that Dengue Fever is a much more serious problem and that it didn't seem like the government was doing anything about that.
Things have changed.
I'm not sure how important this news is in other parts of the world such as the United States, but the Swine Flu now affects nearly every aspect of one's life here in Argentina (particularly in the city of Buenos Aires where I am located). Now, as I write this, over 100,000 people in Argentina have been infected with the flu, and at least 2,000 have been confirmed to have the Swine Flu. 44 people had died of the flu as of July 3rd. The most startling thing? As of only ONE WEEK BEFORE July 3rd, the death toll was at 26, showing how the virus has truly metastasized in the population at large and is now growing exponentially.
As a result of all this chaos and comotion, the government has finally declared a national state of emergency, an action that President Kirchner was criticized for having not taken earlier. The Health Minister of Argentina, Graciela Ocaña, even resigned after her suggestion to declare a national state of emergency EARLIER was overruled by Kirchner. In any case, Argentina is in a national state of emergency right now. Here is what that means:
- Health and screening measures at the airport have increased. I believe every person is now required to wear a mask when getting off of any international flight.
- Many planes are now sprayed with disinfectant on the inside of the plane before people are allowed to get off.
- Nearly all public facilities are closed.
- Grade schools, middle schools, and high schools are closed.
- Colleges and universities are closed.
- Courts are closed.
- Many shops are closed (some by order of local city governments and others by choice).
- Many restaurants and cafes are closed (some by order of local city governments and others by choice).
- Many sports centers and gyms are closed (some by order of local city governments and others by choice).
- Many dance clubs and dance halls are closed (some by order of local city governments and others by choice).
- I have received multiple e-mails from the US Embassy in Argentina warning me about the seriousness of the Swine Flu here and telling me about precautions to take to avoid catching it.
- Our "welcome dinner" with the Road2Argentina Program was cancelled due to fears that having a collective event like that could spread the virus.
- Many TOURIST ATTRACTIONS are now closed and inaccessible to visitors
- The use of masks in everyday life is now PROLIFIC in Argentina. A sight such as the one in the picture above this post on the day of the national election is now not rare at all. It is not uncommon at all to see at least one or two people wearing a mask on every city block.
- The government has really been trying to spread health information about how to prevent the Swine Flu. I didn't know that the subte entrances had boards that could display messages (because they normally never display anything), until I saw the following in the picture below this post.
- I almost didn't believe this at first, but there are actually NOTICABLY FEWER PEOPLE walking around the downtown streets of the city and taking public transportation such as the subte. This has actually made it much easier to get around and to deal with the normally over-crowded streets and sidewalks and subte cars!