Director-General of the WHO.
The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom, is an infectious diseases expert who, prior to his high-profile international role, served as minister of health and minister of foreign affairs in his home country of Ethiopia. From 2005 to 2012 he carried out fruitful work in Ethiopian health, achieving results in campaigns to fight epidemics and reduce maternal and child mortality, and was notably active in the global fight against malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS. As foreign minister he demonstrated diplomatic skill when mediating in African conflicts, advocating the Sustainable Development Goals and promoting the African Union. Politically, he was among the right-hand men of Prime Ministers Meles Zenawi and Hailemariam Desalegn, leaders of a parliamentary regime praised for its economic successes but censured for its authoritarianism and repression.
In May 2017, Tedros was chosen to head the Geneva-based UN agency with a budget of $4.412 billion and set himself the goal of achieving universal health coverage. The WHO was just beginning its Health Emergencies Programme at the time. Less than three years on, the multilateral organisation faces the most serious emergency since its creation in 1948. A crisis of unexpected severity that originated in China before spreading to the rest of the planet has ended up posing a threat to the whole of humanity: the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes severe acute respiratory illness, was originally given the provisional name of 2019-nCoV by the WHO before the definitive COVID-19.
The guidelines and recommendations issued by Tedros and his staff since December 31st 2019, when authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan reported the first cases of a pneumonia of unknown aetiology but with possibly zoonotic origins, have evolved as events have progressed. In other words, as scientists working frantically against the clock have found that the pathogen is more aggressive and dangerous than first thought, especially due to its high transmission capacity by patients and asymptomatic vectors.
Some controversy has arisen around the director-general’s regular messages of warning and encouragement, as it has around the WHO’s overall strategy to face this transnational threat. They have also been partly drowned out by an unprecedented global cacophony of conflicting government guidelines, disparate epidemiological information, data describing the catastrophic economic impacts of the drastic measures taken to contain the virus (border closures, quarantines, lockdowns, halted production), an avalanche of fake news, rumours, conspiracy theories, propaganda aiming to advance particular political agendas, and speculation about geopolitical implications of incalculable magnitude.
Tedros has headed off some of the controversies that surround the COVID-19 crisis and those that affect him in particular. He has not hesitated to describe the overabundance of information and disinformation about the coronavirus as an “infodemic” that generates “distrust” among people, especially if they are scared or angry about what is happening, and has insisted that we must “not politicise” a pandemic that on April 9th 2020 had already spread to almost all countries and territories in the world and which, according to official figures, had already accounted for 1,600,000 cases, nearly 100,000 deaths and 355,000 recoveries (active cases would go on to far exceed one million), with the United States, Spain, Italy, France and Germany taking the brunt.
According to the Ethiopian doctor, the international community cannot afford suspicion and accusations among its members, because a fight that transcends borders can be won only through “unity”. In other words, the “spirit of solidarity and cooperation” must prevail. Criticisms of Tedros and the WHO circulate tentatively in Europe but are shrill in the United States, where the organisation is reproached for reacting slowly in the decisive weeks of January and February, an initial tendency to “minimise” the severity of COVID-19 and, in the words of President Trump , a “China-centric” complacency after Tedros repeatedly praised the government of the people's republic for isolating the outbreaks in Wuhan and Hubei and for its “commitment to transparency” about the nature and extent of the disease – a contrast with Beijing's behaviour during the 2002–2003 SARS outbreak. For all these reasons, some have called for the director-general to resign.
Mayor of Milan
Giuseppe Sala, an experienced manager in both the private and public sectors, was elected mayor of Milan in 2016 as the candidate for a centre-left coalition. Since then, the sindaco leading both the municipality and the Metropolitan City of Milan (what used to be the province) has been implementing a programme of local government shaped around social cohesion, environmental sustainability, innovation and an international perspective in what is considered the most prosperous, enterprising and avant-garde city in Italy. Lombardy’s capital, with 1.4 million inhabitants, a fifth of them foreign citizens, and a very high level of income, is one of Europe's pillars of industry, finance and culture and a laboratory for creative ideas and new lines of development that influence the worlds of design, fashion, the audiovisual market and digital production, as well as tourism.
Milan’s image was strengthened on the global stage as a paradigmatic modern, dynamic, open city by Expo 2015, of which Sala was CEO and which left a legacy of municipal policies specifically focused on food. In 2019, Milan was awarded the 2026 Winter Olympics alongside the alpine resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo (Veneto). For “Beppe” Sala, Milan must commit strongly to public services, green urbanism (including clean public transport, intensive waste recycling and the Forestami plan, which intends to plant three million trees by 2030), a long-term vision and the narrative of a city with identity that is able attract talent and investments in a highly competitive global environment.
Now, like other Italian mayors, particularly those in the north, Sala faces the major health and socioeconomic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, which arrived from China and took hold in parts of Lombardy and Veneto in February 2020 with tremendous virulence, before quickly spreading across the rest of the country. From the city council offices in the Palazzo Marina Sala took swift measures to contain the coronavirus in Milan, ordering school classes and sporting events to be suspended as early as February 22nd. Within a few hours, the regional authority banned public gatherings, shut educational centres and closed cultural buildings throughout Lombardy. The Italian government, which had already declared a state of emergency on January 31st, did not adopt the first nationwide restriction – suspending face-to-face education – until March 4th.
On March 2nd, in a misstep motivated by concerns about economic losses in the hospitality and services sectors, and the confirmation that Milan was less affected by infection than neighbouring cities Brescia and Bergamo, Sala ordered the emblematic Duomo and other monuments to reopen, along with museums, libraries and theatres, although important precautions were to be taken. The motto Milano non si ferma (Milan doesn’t stop), published by the mayor on Twitter on February 27th to express the desire to return to normality, became untenable by March 8th and 9th. By then, the virus’s unstoppable spread – which had already infected 9,000 Italians and killed 500 – had pushed the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to drop the classification of the national territory into different containment zones based on the incidence of COVID-19 and to extend the drastic provisions on shutdown, quarantine and self-isolation across the whole country. Conte later ordered the closure of all commercial establishments that did not meet basic needs (March 11th) and the shutdown of non-essential industries and economic activities (March 21st).
The mayor of Milan acknowledged the communication error (“maybe I was wrong, but at that time nobody understood the vehemence of the virus”, he explained on March 22nd) and settled for the slogan Restate a casa (Stay at home) launched by the central authorities, although he did encourage neighbours to “stay strong”, warning that “if Milan falls, it will be a disaster”. The city hall already expects the economic damage from COVID-19 to be especially severe in a city with as much manufacturing, commercial and tourism industry as Milan, which has had to postpone major events such as the Furniture Fair and Fashion Week.
Beyond the initiatives adopted by the City Council of Milan to face the health emergency, such as providing a protection kit for primary care medical personnel, the creation of a mutual relief fund to help rebuild the city's socioeconomic fabric, the guarantee of healthcare for irregular migrants and the frantic search on the face masks market, Mayor Sala has launched a series of further-reaching reflections, saying that Italy should begin a constitutional process and that the EU should be more diligent in approving “cost-sharing” economic reactivation measures. He also demands that “solidarity” and “cooperation” prevail in the emergency action taken by EU institutions and governments, and that as the closest administrations to citizens local authorities should be able to directly access the extraordinary funding authorised by the European Commission.
Mayor of Los Angeles
Midway through 2020, Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles’s Democratic mayor, finds himself working to prevent the overlapping crises provoked by COVID-19 and the unrest over the death of George Floyd spoiling the municipal work done to bridge social and economic gaps. First elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2017, Garcetti is a political scientist and urban planner who has approved a number of directives aimed at raising standards in the second-largest city in the United States, which has four million registered residents, as well as nine million in the wider metropolitan area formed of Los Angeles and Orange counties. The directives range from an L.A. Green New Deal consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals, a Clean Air Action Plan linked to the Paris Climate Agreement and a commitment to solar electricity generation that targets the municipality’s full decarbonisation by 2050, through to strategies on cybersecurity and preparedness against earthquakes, fires and droughts. Measures have also been taken to immediately improve the daily lives of many vulnerable Angelenos who lack resources.
In the latter area – more closely linked to human development and people’s rights – three Los Angeles City Council actions stand out in particular: the promotion of housebuilding for affordable rent; the provision of bridge housing modules to provide temporary but dignified shelter to the thousands of citizens living in unsatisfactory conditions on the street and whose homelessness the mayor has called “the moral and humanitarian crisis of our time”; and the declaration of a “city of safety, refuge, and opportunity for all” as Los Angeles joined other major cities across the United States in disobeying federal government orders for municipal authorities to collaborate on raids on undocumented immigrants in order to expel them from the country. In 2017 the mayor staunchly defended Los Angeles, paradigm of integrated cultural diversity, as a “sanctuary city” for irregular migrants and the so-called “dreamers”. This placed Garcetti, a Spanish-speaker of Italian-Mexican descent and Jewish faith in direct confrontation with the Trump administration, which responded by threatening federal funding cuts.
In 2017, the IOC awarded Los Angeles the 2028 Summer Olympics – as it did in 1932 and 1984. The council will take advantage of the sporting event to modernise public infrastructure and urban transportation systems, incorporating the new criteria on energy efficiency and zero emissions. Los Angeles was also the first city in the United States to establish the legal minimum wage of $15 an hour and runs the College Promise programme, which helps students from low-income families access higher education. The city council insists that another of its priorities is to reduce the levels of insecurity and violence in troubled neighbourhoods by restructuring the police department (LAPD) and removing firearms from the streets. In his institutional presentation, Garcetti, who heads the global C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group says that his agenda “focuses on creating a safe, livable, and prosperous city”.
This ambitious municipal agenda now faces unexpected challenges of unprecedented magnitude. Los Angeles and California have suffered far less coronavirus spread than other parts of the country (although severe, the incidence is much lower than in New York, whose population is similar to that of Los Angeles County: on June 7th New York reported 211,555 cases and 21,689 deaths, compared to 63,844 positive and 2,645 deaths recorded in its west coast counterpart). Nevertheless, the region is suffering similarly disastrous economic repercussions from the pandemic. In May, Los Angeles County reported that by the end of April, after six weeks of quarantine and shutdown, 1.3 million jobs had been lost and the unemployment rate had skyrocketed to 20.3%, compared to 4.6% in February. These figures are significantly worse than the national average and the authorities fear very deep damage has been done to the rich local productive fabric, which is so linked to international trade, high technology and the entertainment industries.
Garcetti was quick to address the initial phase of the COVID-19 crisis, but since May he has managed the de-escalation with notable caution – excessive in the eyes of those who demand all economic activity be immediately reopened. On March 4th the city council implemented the decision by the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, to impose a state of emergency throughout the whole state. On the 15th all catering businesses, entertainment venues, gyms, museums and theatres were told to close; and on March 19th Garcetti issued the Safer At Home public order, urging residents to leave home only for essential purchases.
The mayor, with his characteristic monotone somewhere between calm and friendly, stepped up his presence in the media and on social networks to insist on social distancing, prescribe the widespread use of masks, guarantee free diagnostic testing to all residents and underscore the “resilience” of Angelenos, for whom natural disasters are no rare event. Before the pandemic, the city council approved the Resilient Los Angeles plan, which seeks to collectively mobilise authorities and residents to achieve a series of goals related to risk reduction, security and the strengthening of social cohesion and structures. It is a comprehensive resilience strategy that should work on multiple levels: personal and family, neighbourhood, city and international, and within global networks and alliances.
To address the health disaster, Garcetti also announced economic aid for families, the self-employed and SMEs, set up an emergency donation fund and called a moratorium on the eviction of tenants whom the quarantine prevented from paying their rent. On June 1st, with hospital admissions stable and increased medical testing capacity, Garcetti issued the Safer LA public order, easing some of the restrictions imposed in March. Gone were the gloomy references to “horrifying” projections of the virus’s spread and the need to avoid “false optimism” about mitigating its peril. And yet, at the time, no consolidated downward trend was notable in the number of new daily positive cases.
So just as Los Angeles was approaching the progressive relaxation of its lockdown, the social distancing motto meant to cut the pathogen’s chain of transmission was blown apart on May 25th by the protests and riots that spread across the United States following the death due to police brutality of George Floyd, a black citizen of Minneapolis. As early as May 30th, the profusion of torched vehicles, shoplifting and other acts of large-scale vandalism prompted Garcetti to declare a local emergency, asked the state governor to deploy the National Guard to support overwhelmed LAPD forces, and imposed a curfew that was not respected.
In the face of this chaos, the mayor, the city council and the Los Angeles Police Department have taken an ostensibly even-handed attitude, while continuing to evoke the tragic 1992 race riots. When bringing in the emergency and the curfew, they said they deplored the looting and the significant amount of criminal behaviour committed by people whose actions were tarnishing a peaceful protest. On June 2nd, in an unusual gesture of solidarity aimed at appeasing popular fury, Garcetti took a knee outside City Hall in front of a peaceful crowd called by church pastors. Before those present, the mayor acknowledged their right to express their feelings and their demands for justice and anti-racism “loud and clear” but without “breaking the law”. “I understand the anger (...) I celebrate you on the streets (...) But you have to control your actions. If you’re breaking the law, we will not let you change the message”. Hours later, hundreds gathered to protest outside the politician's private residence. On June 4th the mayor announced a thorough reform of the LAPD to root out “bad police officers” and ensure no “culture of silence” persists in the force. At the same time, Los Angeles City Council announced that $250 million would be reallocated from the shattered municipal budget to meet the urgent social needs generated by the coronavirus and to address the specific needs of the black community. The new fiscal priorities would involve cutting between $100 and $150 million from the LAPD budget. Another consequence of the protests over the murder of George Floyd was that Los Angeles City Council closed the SARS-CoV-2 testing points in the city, citing security reasons – a decision that has perplexed experts.
Garcetti has condemned President Donald Trump's intemperate reactions to the most serious social upheaval in the United States since the 1960s. “We need some morality and we need some leadership” the mayor said alongside Joe Biden, the Democratic Party candidate in the November presidential election. Garcetti, who supported Barack Obama's run for the White House in 2007, has co-chaired the Biden presidential campaign since April. His own candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination – proposed by many – failed ultimately to materialise in 2019.
Mayor of Amsterdam
After almost seven centuries of male leadership, in 2018 a municipal committee elected Femke Halsema to be Amsterdam’s first female mayor on a non-interim basis. A former member of the House of Representatives (1998–2011) and leader of the eco-left party GroenLinks, she has had a multifaceted career in academic research, social administration, journalism and cultural activity. A sociologist and criminologist by training, she governs the capital of the Netherlands in coalition with liberals, socialists and the Labour Party, and has been implementing a programme focussed on digitising citizens’ services, smart mobility and the circular economy.
The green mayor advocates an urban management model guided by “pragmatism” that prioritises solving the problems that affect residents, collaboration between parties and setting dogma aside. It is an approach that matches both Dutch politics’ typical capacity for cross-cutting consensus and her self-definition as a “left-liberal”. She believes in multiculturalism, refuses to fine Muslim women who violate the national ban on wearing the niqab or burqa on public transport, and is critical of the bustling hyper-consumerist society. Her decision to ban guided tours of the famous Red Light District has resonated abroad. She argues that ending this type of mass tourism helps promote respect for sex workers and reduces the disruption to residents. In addition, since 2019 Amsterdam has been promoting a Cities Coalition for Digital Rights.
During the 2020 COVID-19 health emergency – the Netherlands’ first case was reported on February 27th – Amsterdam City Council has adopted a range of measures that complement those taken by the national government. Prime Minister Mark Rutte has maintained a sort of “smart” quarantine without mandatory confinement at home or shutdown of the whole non-essential economy that relies on the common sense of citizens, who must learn to cope with a “1.5-metre society” while closures and restrictions are lifted in a very gradual process that will last until September.
For her part, Amsterdam’s burgemeester considers that actions to alleviate the disastrous effects of the virus on the social and economic fabric can and should serve to accelerate processes that were already necessary in the pre-corona era. This is the case, for example, of the implementation of a doughnut model that seeks to balance distributive economic production between an ecological ceiling and a social base. Among other initiatives, the municipality has distributed thousands of internet-connected laptops and tablets to low-income students and senior citizens, has opened an online platform for citizens to submit ideas, has called a moratorium on debt collection from rent and bears the cost of preschool for children whose parents do not receive government subsidies. Furthermore, the city council is mobilising to specifically assist SMEs, organisations, freelancers and creative workers in the fields of culture, arts and sciences. The city's emergency fund amounts to €50 million. In April, Halsema and her counterparts in Paris, Barcelona and Milan released the manifesto “Cities for a social and solidarity way out of the crisis caused by COVID-19”, in which the signatories demand a “social solution” to the pandemic as well as coordination at European level. The four mayors call on EU governments and institutions to prioritise “the principles of solidarity and cooperation”, for the countries of the north and the south to share the costs of economic recovery, for the mobilisation of funds not to be conditional upon austerity policies, and for cities, as “the first administration … European citizens turn to for support”, to be able to directly access the structural funds unblocked by the European Commission.
Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires
The Mayor of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (CABA), Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, is an economist and public administrator who previously served as a senior official in the capital city’s national, provincial and municipal administrations. A close ally of Mauricio Macri , he helped the former president launch the liberal centre-right party Propuesta Republicana - PRO (Republican Proposal, previously known as Compromiso para el Cambio) and served as Chief of Cabinet of Ministers when Macri was elected mayor of Buenos Aires in 2007. Eight years later, when Macri won the 2015 general election and became president of Argentina, his dauphin succeeded him as leader of the CABA. In the 2019 elections, while the candidates from PRO and the Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) coalition lost the Casa Rosada (Macri) and the governorship of Buenos Aires province (Maria Eugenia Vidal), Larreta was re-elected mayor without the need for a runoff.
Under his leadership, the Southern Cone metropolis is extending its railway and road connections and updating its strategic and urban environmental plans to emphasise sustainability. Another novelty since 2017 has been the transfer of Argentinian federal police officers to the Buenos Aires City Police. In 2020, the mayor’s capacity to address the day to day needs of 3 million residents faces critical pressure on two levels. Geographically indistinct from its extensive surroundings, which are four times more populous than the CABA itself and jurisdictionally part of Buenos Aires Province, the city is facing devastating economic and social conditions that are materialising in rising poverty, ruined small businesses and the decline of the middle class.
On the one hand, with a devalued peso, two-digit inflation and facing default, the national government is forced to seek a restructuring of its unpayable external debt with its creditors. On the other hand, the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the federal capital particularly hard. After four and a half months of unceasing spread of the disease, on July 23 rd the country registered 6,127 new cases and 114 deaths. In the following days, these grim figures eased slightly, although it is too early to know whether this improvement will be consolidated.
The mayor is viewed as a pragmatic politician who is open to consensus. Media traction has been achieved through coordinated communication, decision-making that is “always based on epidemiological data” and, above all, eye-catching interterritorial and suprapartisan three-way coordination with the national president, Alberto Fernández , and the governor of Buenos Aires Province, Axel Kicillof. A staunch advocate of the face mask, which has been mandatory in public spaces in the CABA since April 15th, Larreta is also committed to raising awareness about hygiene and safety measures and speaks bluntly about the efforts to “corner the virus” and “cut the chain of infection”, seeing the correct strategy as “test, detect and isolate”. At the end of July, Buenos Aires attempted a very gradual and cautious lifting of the second lockdown phase, but the mayor's assessment that intensive care bed occupancy levels had not yet reached saturation and collapse were refuted by hospital staff.
Larreta has made a number of theoretical contributions in the areas of public policy, management models and participatory municipalism since the 1990s. The head of the Buenos Aires government is also a member of the World Council of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the Board of Directors of the Metropolis network. In 2018 he orchestrated the first summit of the Urban 20 (U20) initiative in his city, at which 35 mayors and representatives of local governments from around the world gathered to promote dialogue and cooperation between major cities and the G20.
The COVID-19 crisis in the city of Buenos Aires
On March 12th 2020, with 31 reported infections and a single death, the Argentinian government signed the Decree of Need and Urgency, extending the state of health emergency for one year and taking additional measures to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2, such as the 14-day mandatory quarantine for confirmed and suspected cases. On March 15th, President Fernández announced that borders would be closed to non-resident foreigners, schooling would be suspended and public transportation reduced, and asked people to avoid using the streets. Four days later, on March 19th, Fernández went a step further, declaring “social, preventive and compulsory isolation”, which involved the confinement of all Argentinians in their homes and border closures from midnight March 20th to March 31st . Only banks and shops selling essential goods were to remain open.
This unprecedented measure was announced by Fernández at the Casa Rosada in a format
that was also unprecedented: a joint appearance, flanked on either side by Mayor Larreta and Governor Kicillof – all three executive leaders of the Metropolitan Region of Buenos Aires (RMBA) . This region, which does not have its own regulatory framework and is applicable only for provincial urban planning, covers an area of 18,380 km², and includes 15 million residents in 44 administrative units of which 43 are municipal units of Buenos Aires Province. Larreta governs the CABA with the Frente de Todos (Peronism, Kirchnerism, Massism) of Fernández and Kicillof in opposition; while the other two govern their respective jurisdictions with the opposition of Larreta’s Juntos por el Cambio (republicans, radicals, civic). The March 19th announcement was the first of a series of regular joint communiqués and press conferences that set aside ideological differences in order to project unity in uncertain times. It is a historic step in Argentinian political culture and hard (not to say impossible) to imagine in most American and European countries.
Most of Larreta’s measures adapting to the course of the pandemic have matched those of the other two governments, but not all. Since the first infections were detected at the beginning of March, the CABA has activated the 107 Emergency Medical Attention System helpline (SAME) , deployed passenger checks with rapid testing points and infrared thermometers at railway stations, made an agreement with hotel chains for the preventive quarantining of citizens arriving from abroad, and opened facilities to house homeless people and those obliged to self-isolate who lack the sanitary conditions to do so at home. A Connected Educational Community (CEC) was also launched to provide guidance to families and educational support during isolation; the Adultos Mayores programme was set up to provide telephone assistance for the elderly and a network of volunteers to assist with their shopping; the mobile app CuidAR was made mandatory for those travelling for work, who were obliged to show their permission to travel; and the DetectAr tool was deployed in neighbourhoods to actively search for people with symptoms of the coronavirus and trace the contacts of positive cases.
On April 17th, a week after the lockdown was extended in urban areas until the 26th of that month, President Fernández came out in support of Larreta's controversial order severely restricting the movement of those over 70 years old on public roads , which some labelled unconstitutional. Unless collecting their pensions from their banks or receiving medical treatment, anyone over 70 was obliged to have a special permit to use public streets, even for shopping. On April 25th, Fernández again extended the strict lockdown in cities of over 500,000 inhabitants, this time until May 10 th, although daily recreational outings of up to one hour for the entire population were permitted within a maximum radius of 500 metres. Like the governors of the most populous provinces, Larreta expressed unease at the apparently hasty relaxation being enacted without prior consultation at the inter-institutional video conference. Fernández made amendments and the logic of cooperation prevailed.
In early May, Larreta spoke out against those even within his own party who were urging him not to neglect the campaign preparations for the distant national elections of 2021 (legislative) and 2023 (presidential). They accused him of being too “conciliatory” with the Kirchner government, and he responded that “politics has no place here, we’re all on the same team”. The head of government seemed willing to pay the political costs of his "coordinated work" with Fernández and Kicillof.
Shortly afterwards, on May 7th, the Buenos Aires legislature approved the CABA Economic Emergency Law, which authorised the government to modify budgetary items already created to address the COVID-19 social and health crisis. Some of the opposition voted in favour of the law, although 21 lawmakers from the Frente de Todos and from the left voted against it. The following day, the three leaders made another joint appearance to announce that while the country would move into phase 4 or “progressive reopening”, prior to phase 5 (the "new normal"), the federal capital and the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (AMBA) would remain in lockdown with “geographical segmentation” (phase 3) until May 24 th because diagnosed cases were doubling in under 25 days. At that time, at around 250 every 24 hours, the rate of new cases in the country was not excessively alarming, although community transmission was occurring. Accumulated cases exceeded 5,000, of which 300 had ended in death.
Midway through the month, Larreta distanced himself from Fernández and Kicillof by taking a unilateral measure allowing those under the age of 16 in the CABA to take recreational walks on weekends when accompanied by an adult, and allowing commercial activity to reopen under certain conditions. Again, rumours of tensions and operational differences circulated, but the two leading figures on the national stage – the head of the ruling party and the de facto leader of the opposition – gave another demonstration of their harmony. Towards the end of May, Larreta – armed as always with medical and clinical data communicated with technical fluency – made a joint statement with Fernández expressing concern about the virulence of the pathogen in high-density urban settings and working class neighbourhoods . There was no alternative but to reverse the flexibility in public transport and private mobility introduced in recent weeks. Lockdown was to last until at least June 7th and in the AMBA that meant returning almost to square one. But the mayor of Buenos Aires believed that at least the “exponential growth” of cases seen, for example, in the United States and Brazil had been avoided.
The anticipated flattening of the curve did not happen in June; on the contrary, the virus spread with increasing speed . The CABA stepped upmass testing in vulnerable neighbourhoods and on the 17 th and 19th, after having lunch with former governor María Eugenia Vidal, who had contracted the disease, Larreta himself took two diagnostic tests: both came back negative. On June 25th, Argentina passed 50,000 infections with 1,150 deaths, and the following day Fernández and Larreta met again at the Quinta de Olivos presidential residence. On that occasion, the head of government recognised that the rise in cases in the CABA was taking an exponential turn and resigned himself to reintroducing the most stringent measures to contain the transmission. In other words: a return to phase 1 . Hence, on June 26th the president announced that the AMBA would close again from July 1st to 17th . For his part, Larreta explained that hospital bed occupancy by COVID-19 patients in the CABA had reached 50%, that public transport could only be used by essential workers and that the government was sticking to a strategy based on three pillars: restricting contact between people, the DetectAr programme and personal security measures, in other words, mask-wearing and social distancing .
On July 8th, Larreta and Kicillof discussed the possibility of declaring that Buenos Aires would enter phase 3 on July 18th if the contagion curve plateaued. Four days later Argentina crossed the psychological threshold of 100,000 total positives. On July 17th, in his umpteenth appearance with the president and the governor at Quinta de Olivos, Larreta announced the implementation from the 20th of a six-stage plan to “regain freedom” in the CABA , noting that case numbers had been stable for 25 days, with a daily average of between 900 and 1,000. The case doubling rate was 32 days and the contagion rate had fallen slightly from 1.1 to 1.05, he reported, adding that Buenos Aires would have to “get used to living with the disease”. In Buenos Aires city, the health situation on July 20 th was as follows: 46,387 total positives among the resident population, with 16,946 discharges and 925 deaths. In the previous 24 hours, 1,090 new cases, 409 recoveries and 51 deaths had been added. Across the country, the totals were 130,774, 55,913 and 2,273, respectively. The CABA accounted for 28,516 of the country’s 72,488 active cases.