Argentina extends coronavirus lockdown as cases rise

FILE PHOTO: A boy wearing a protective face mask rides a bike at a park as the government begins to ease quarantine restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Buenos Aires, Argentina July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina will extend a mandatory lockdown until Aug. 16 as its coronavirus cases continue to rise, President Alberto Fernandez announced on Friday.

The lockdown, which has been the strictest in the capital Buenos Aires, was due to expire on Sunday.

The South American nation has seen its caseload spike in recent weeks and recorded a record daily tally on Thursday with 6,377 new cases. There are now 185,373 confirmed cases and 3,466 deaths, according to the latest government data.

“The big problem that we have had in the last 15 days is that we relaxed, we felt that it was contained ... I ask you please to help us and to join us,” Fernandez said in a news conference where he announced the extension.

Argentina has been under lockdown since March 20, though restrictions were previously relaxed in many parts of the country.

On July 17, Fernandez announced a plan for the country to gradually return to normal life in several stages. Outdoor recreation was permitted and shops, hair salons and some professional services re-opened earlier in Buenos Aires earlier in the month. The capital has one of the highest concentration of new cases, along with the province of Buenos Aires.

Most office buildings and restaurant dining rooms remain closed and public transportation is restricted for those without government permission.

Reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Writing by Cassandra Garrison, Editing by Franklin Paul and Paul Simao