A tranquil and calm Buenos Aires under lockdown this month. (Photo courtesy of Olivia Purba)

Indonesian Travel Blogger Stuck in Argentina During Coronavirus Lockdown

BY :OLIVIA PURBA

APRIL 21, 2020

Never in a million years did I think I would ever get stranded in a foreign country while gallivanting my way around the globe. After traveling to over 50 countries on my Indonesian passport, mostly by myself, I've found a habit of always surviving and getting by.

But here I am now in my second month of being stuck in Argentina, which was at first just one country among many in my six-month globetrotting quest begun in late 2019.

I started it with a two-month sojourn in Europe before moving on to Morocco and finally to South America.

By the time I arrived in Brazil and then moved on to Argentina in February this year, the coronavirus reportedly still had not reached Latin America.

However, once the Argentinian government confirmed the first positive coronavirus case in the country on March 6, the situation escalated very quickly.

The government acted decisively and immediately by canceling all incoming and outgoing international flights.

Nine days after the WHO declared Covid-19 as a pandemic on March 11, the Argentinian government ordered a total quarantine to try to limit the spread of the virus inside their country.

The main reason for the government's rapid response in Argentina was because they realized early on that their health service would be unable to handle an uncontrollable coronavirus pandemic.

The government was fully aware of the economic impact from the decision to put healthcare first, and businesses second. 

During quarantine, the police patrol the streets to prevent people from leaving their houses without a good reason.

Residents who want to travel further than a kilometer away from their homes must carry an identity card and a statement that confirms the precise reasons why they are outside.

Those who break the rules will get a fine or even spend a night or two in jail. Only journalists, health professionals and people working in the food, pharmaceutical and oil industries can go to work.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere in the capital, Buenos Aires, has been tranquil and calm since the start of the lockdown.

Only a few residents are seen out on the streets rushing with their shopping bags to do their weekly supermarket and pharmacy rounds.

There is a limitation on the number of people allowed inside a store in Buenos Aires. In the 24-hour pharmacy near my apartment, a maximum of 10 people can enter the building at the same time.

In small grocery stores, the cap is set at four people.

Only one person per family is allowed to go out to do their essential shopping. Most shops are closed, as are most restaurants and bars.

A few restaurants stay open but only for takeaways. One day before the lockdown began, there were long queues at supermarkets as people stocked up on basic goods.

Fortunately, the queues were very orderly. There was no panic buying, and the shelves were never empty.

I have a great amount of respect for the Argentinians' tendency to obey the rules, diligently keeping their distance from each other whenever they are out of the house.

And at nine o'clock in the evening, they would come out on their balconies to applaud the doctors, nurses and other essential workers on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus.

The quarantine period announced by President Alberto Fernandez initially lasted until March 31. It was extended to April 12 and then extended again until April 26.

There's a big chance that the lockdown will keep being extended since the number of coronavirus infections is not yet falling.

Argentina's strict lockdown actually makes me feel very safe to stay in this country during the pandemic.

Hospital and public health services are free, even for tourists like me.

The strict rules and the willingness of the population to obey them give me the belief that Argentina is on the right track with its handling of the pandemic. 

The numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths from Covid-19 in Argentina are still relatively low compared to the numbers from other Latin American countries, or even compared to the numbers in Indonesia. 

As of Friday, Argentina had a total of 2,571 confirmed coronavirus cases with 115 deaths. At the same time, Indonesia had 5,516 cases with a death toll of 496.

The key takeaways from Argentina's handling of the coronavirus crisis are how quickly and decisively the government responded to the discovery of the first cases in the country – declaring a total lockdown after barely two weeks, and then how obediently and willingly Argentinians follow the government policies, believing that they have their best interests at heart. 

Olivia Purba is an author and blogger based in Bali. Her travel book, "Traveling Aja Dulu: Jalan-Jalan Gratis ke 35 Negara" was published by Gramedia in 2019. She also writes on her blog www.travelingajadulu.com and Instagram and vlogs on YouTube.

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