BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (NCC News) — Life in Buenos Aires was at a standstill on Thursday. Silence filled the air, replacing the sounds of traffic and movement that used to be more characteristic of the cosmopolitan Argentine capital.
At the Güemes Sanatorium, Hernán Gatti anxiously waited for a doctor to test him for the notorious coronavirus. Last week, he fell from his bed and was rushed to the hospital where he underwent surgery after fracturing his hip.
After a successful operation, Gatti spent a few days recovering and was ready to return home Thursday. But his doctors told him that he was going to have to stay another four days to get tested for the virus as part of the hospital’s protocol.
“I want to go home,” Gatti said. “I’m tired of taking up space here when I’m strong enough to leave.”
Last week the federal government extended the national quarantine until April 12. So far, the country has seen 1,133 confirmed cases and 34 deaths, according to the latest report by the Ministry of Health. To slow down the spread of the virus, President Alberto Fernández announced a decree prohibiting people from leaving their houses for reasons other than buying groceries or going to the pharmacy.
At the hospital, Gatti received daily visits from his daughter, nephew and granddaughter. Before entering the hospital, all three of them disposed of their facemasks, washed their hands with sanitizer, talked with doctors to discuss any symptoms they were experiencing and used the elevator one-by-one to get to Gatti’s room.
“I got stopped by traffic controllers on my way to the hospital yesterday,” said Emilse Gatti, Gatti’s daughter.
To avoid getting fined, she carried official papers, which allowed her to break quarantine to visit her father.
“It’s a very tedious process, but it’s necessary,” she said.
Those who do not obey the government-issued quarantine find themselves in violation of article 205 of the national penal code. People who are on the street for non-urgent reasons can face between 15 days and two years of prison, according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
“You can sense the fear people are experiencing within the walls of the hospital,” said Hernán Gatti. “Doctors and nurses are being extra precautious here and aren’t messing around.”
Though Argentina’s situation is less dramatic in comparison to other countries like the United States and Italy, government and medical officials took stringent precautions to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
“I ended up here because of a fracture, not because of the virus,” said Hernán Gatti.
After his surgery, Gatti’s doctors found that he had respiratory issues as a result of several years of being a heavy smoker— a habit that he quit 35 years ago. But since breathing difficulties are one of the many symptoms associated with the virus, the doctors decided to perform the test on him to eliminate any doubts as to whether he has the coronavirus or not.
Later Thursday, the staff relocated Gatti to another floor to undergo further testing. Though his doctors believed that he likely had not contracted the virus, they needed to check.
“I’m frustrated,” Gatt said. “But I know that the doctors are not only thinking of my health, but that of everyone else.”
*Editor’s Note: Hernán Gatti is NCC reporter Camila Grigera Naón’s grandfather. She is currently reporting from Buenos Aires, Argentina.