Argentina cranks up coronavirus lockdown in capital

President Alberto Fernandez says Argentina would have 10,000 deaths if it had followed Brazil's approach to tackling the coronavirus (AFP Photo/ESTEBAN COLLAZO)

Buenos Aires (AFP) - Argentina President Alberto Fernandez announced on Friday a toughening of lockdown measures in the capital Buenos Aires and its surrounding area as coronavirus cases are on the rise.

"We're going back to closing the Buenos Aires metropolitan area so that traffic dramatically decreases, to reduce infections and the need for (hospital) beds," said Fernandez.

From July 1 "we're going to ask everyone to return to isolation at home and to only leave to fetch provisions for daily life," he said.

The measure will last until July 17 with "only essential services and some industrial zones" remaining operational.

The decision comes with coronavirus cases increasing exponentially. Argentina now has more than 1,100 deaths and over 52,000 cases.

Fernandez said the greater Buenos Aires area, home to 14 million of Argentina's 44 million population, "is infecting the rest of the country," where 80 percent of activity has reopened.

Center-left leader Fernandez could not resist a dig at neighbor Brazil's far right President Jair Bolsonaro, saying that the prolonged quarantine had "saved lives."

"If Argentina had followed Brazil's rhythm, we'd have 10,000 dead," he said.

He acknowledged, though, that the lockdown had "brought very negative consequences" to an economy that has already been suffering from two years of recession and is predicted to shrink by 9.9 percent in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund.