Argentina opens 2022 overwhelmed by extreme heat, without electricity and with the covid shot to record numbers


Buenos Aires has not reached 40 degrees since 1995, and the 41.1 on Tuesday, January 11, implies the second highest temperature in its history.

View of a business affected by the blackout, this Tuesday, in Buenos Aires.PABLO ANELIAFP

It is midnight in Buenos Aires, the streets burn at 29 degrees after having exceeded 41 during the day and the nightly news program on television plays Ry Cooder with “Dark was the night”. Western music to describe a Tuesday that was crazy and that threatens to repeat itself in the next few days: a good part of the Argentine capital without power while covid cases hit record of 137,000 infections in a single day.

And a recurring question that became a topic again in the midst of the endless heat stress: is it reasonable that the monthly electricity bill equals the price of a coffee in a bar?

Buenos Aires had not reached 40 degrees since 1995, and the 41.1 degrees on Tuesday, January 11, imply the second highest temperature in its history. The heat wave that covers Argentina all this week and makes it one of the hottest places in the southern hemisphere will last several days, although that is not the main problem: one thing is that it is very hot, and another than the electricity service does not work, what air conditioners and fans shut down while food spoils in the fridges.

700,000 homes and businesses were affected, which implies millions of people. The cut, of several hours and at the peak of demand, it was felt in a good part of the Argentine capital and in the northern suburbs.

Nothing new for the Argentines, who today rescued in social networks covers of newspapers from 1989 in which the then government of Ral Alfonsn announced restrictions, scheduled cuts and that television would only broadcast between 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. There are, however, differences between what happens in that first government of democracy and the current one in Alberto Fernandez.

In 1989, the electrical service in the metropolitan area of ​​Buenos Aires was provided by the State, but since the 1990s it has been done by private companies. Since the arrival of Kirchnerism to power in 2003, one of the axes of economic policy has been through subsidize public services: electricity, gas, water and even Internet. To earn your vote, the user must not feel pain when paying. Cristina Kirchner, Today vice president, she took that policy to the extreme when she was president between 2007 and 2015. The consequence was extremely frequent divestment and power outages.

Thus, the invoices arrive printed with a legend that says “with subsidy from the National State.” Electricity companies have frozen their rates for two years, after three in which the government of Mauricio Macri He pushed for a sharp increase, convinced that people would understand that the electric bill cannot have a symbolic value.

People, in general, did not understand it. That increase was one of the reasons for his electoral defeat in 2019, the former president reasons today, who during his government I managed to moderate the power outages: the best electrical network in terms of generation capacity, but very little in the distribution networks.

The phrase “Long live Pern!” It became a trend in social networks, promoted by those who attribute the long decline of the country to the founder of Peronism and his followers.

“Edenor regrets the accident that occurred and particularly on a day like today in which unusual temperatures have been registered with the consequent peak in electricity consumption,” said the company. cannot guarantee that outages will not occur again in the next few days. The relief for the company and the government is that a good part of the residents in Buenos Aires are on vacation outside the city in the depths of January (the Argentine August). If the same situation had occurred in December, the reaction could have been quite different. And that on Tuesday the historical record for electricity demand was broken.

While the traffic lights in the city did not work and the traffic went crazy, those lucky ones who teleworked went through bars to check that they had light and at least a good fan to improvise their offices there. That, and even if he was a waiter, something difficult to guarantee today in the face of the rampant absenteeism from work from the sudden extension of the micron strain in the country: shops, offices and restaurants work at half machine, in the best of cases.

Health personnel attend to people who come for a test to detect covid-19 at the Pedro Elizalde Hospital, this Tuesday, in Buenos Aires.
Health personnel attend to people who come for a test to detect covid-19 at the Pedro Elizalde Hospital, this Tuesday, in Buenos Aires.Enrique Garca MedinaEFE

The government announced that those asymptomatic close contacts, vaccinated with two doses and a booster, they should not quarantine. A way to avoid the mischief of those who, amid the stress of summer, chose to take a simple vacation.

But the government got there, which unlike what happened in 2020, when it led the response to the pandemic, He does not hide his exhaustion and satiety regarding the covid issue: He delegates it to the provinces and does not want to be seen as responsible for any restrictions while cases are skyrocketing, but not deaths or hospitalizations. Four hours from Buenos Aires, on the Atlantic beaches, thousands and thousands of young people celebrate and dance without masks or social distancing. Whether they vote for it or not, they agree with Fernández: they too are fed up. They don’t want to know anything else.

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