More than 20,000 shops reopen in Argentine capital


Buenos Aires (AFP)

More than 20,000 clothes and shoe shops in Buenos Aires were allowed to open on Monday as Argentina began a gradual reopening following more than two months of coronavirus lockdown.

Until now, only businesses deemed essential had been allowed to open.

Argentina's new phase of lockdown means some activities will be restarted in 18 of its 24 provinces.

However, social distancing measures will remain in place until June 28, although they will be more flexible in regions with few or no cases of the deadly virus.

By Monday, Argentina had recorded more than 22,000 cases, 670 deaths and more than 7,000 recovered patients amongst a population of 44 million.

Around 85 percent of the cases have been in the greater Buenos Aires area, home to 14 million people.

Schools throughout the country will remain closed while mass gatherings, shows, concerts and sporting events are still prohibited.

Exercise is permitted now, between 8:00 pm and 8:00 am.

"After 80 days we're back!" Natalia Babreno, a 44-year-old, told AFP as she restarted her regular exercise routine.

"It's really emotional because it's very important to feel in some way that life is returning to normal," she said.

From early morning, dozens of joggers were visible in a park in the Palermo neighborhood of the capital.

"You run to feel free, maintaining the precautions and all the rules that you have to follow," said Nicolas Bartiva, a 24-year-old PE teacher.

In 18 of Argentina's 24 provinces, economic activities have been restarted, although under social distancing rules and with mandatory face masks in enclosed areas.

In the other six provinces, where the virus remains active, stricter lockdown measures persist.

The government of center-left President Alberto Fernandez has invested the equivalent of 2.6 percent of GDP to support workers, the poor, and medium and small companies.

Argentina's economy has been in recession since 2018 and in March it recorded an 11.5 percent contraction compared to the same month in 2019.

The country is crippled by debt and owes $324 billion, around 90 percent of its GDP.

Around 35 percent of its population live in poverty.