Argentina flags 'circuit-breaker' lockdown

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Argentina will tighten pandemic lockdown measures to combat a severe second COVID-19 wave, President Alberto Fernandez says, underscoring concern as daily cases and deaths have broken records in the past week.

The strict "circuit-breaker" measures will come into force on Saturday and last until May 31. They include school and non-essential commerce closures and the banning of social, religious and sporting events in the nation of 45 million people.

"We are living the worst moment since the pandemic began," Fernandez said on Thursday. "Today as never before we must all take care of ourselves to avoid all the losses that we can."

He also announced an economic rescue package for sectors worst-hit by the pandemic, which has exacerbated a crisis that has plagued the country for the past three years and left millions of Argentines in poverty.

Argentina posted 35,884 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday after hitting a record high 39,652 on Wednesday.

Total infections number about 3.45 million, which puts the country ahead of hard-hit Brazil on a per capita basis and has pushed intensive care units to near-saturation. There have been 72,699 confirmed deaths.