Ginés González García (San Nicolás, 1945) is one of the most prestigious sanitary doctors in Argentina. In December 2019, President Alberto Fernández appointed him Minister of Health, a position he had already held during the previous Kirchner government. When he was in office for only three months, González García had to administer the Argentine strategy against covid-19. Last week, his government announced that it will share with Mexico the regional production of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford. The PAÍS interviewed the minister on Friday, in an office decorated with a gigantic mural by the painter Benito Quinquela Martín and a model of the Racing field, the club of which he is a fan. A passionate soccer fan, he answered questions while looking askance at Barcelona’s 2-8 defeat by Bayern Munich.
Question. How did Argentina design its strategy against the pandemic?
Reply. The strategy was given by Europe, because we learned from things that did not work and we tried to learn, especially from Spain and Italy. That was the advantage we had, beyond the bad situation Argentina was in. Given that this is a career that is not only health care, but also political and economic, we seek to have a chance to have more time. What we did and when we did it was important. We encourage the local production of respirators and reagents. It is true that we already had the capacity, but there was a strategic role for the State with funding and incentives. During quarantine, we increased intensive care beds by 50%.
P. A prestigious Argentine medical therapist, Arnaldo Dubin, warned days ago that they are collapsed.
R. It is true that therapists are overloaded.
P. It seems that there is a photo of a certain normality in the street and another much more dramatic in hospitals.
R. Anyway, we have decided to renounce fear as a campaign.
P. How do you find the balance between showing the success of health management without people losing their fear of contagion?
R. Saying “we are doing well so far, let’s not lose what we did.” We have the advantage of the vaccine, because that puts a horizon [a la cuarentena].
P. Are we, then, facing a problem of expectations?
R. It is that if I believe that this will be like that all my life I live it as I can. This has happened all over the world, the situation immediately gets out of hand and people stop doing things that seemed simple. We also came from a very critical situation, on the edge of default, with a country very beaten.
P. How do you see the mood of the people?
R. It’s hard. We had a lot of adhesion from entry, it was shown by all the polls. What happens now is that there is a fatigue. It happens to me, there are days when I’m angry with the situation. But one has to try not to change behaviors, even if it is complicated. In addition, generational solidarity was weakened, young people know that nothing is wrong with them and they do not take care of themselves. The latest research on the new bulbs tells us they are all for a meeting.
P. And given this exhaustion, do you think a quarantine that has been going on for five months was a good idea?
R. If we hadn’t done what we did up front, we wouldn’t have had time to prepare. And then we’ve been loosening up for a long time. We have almost 100% industry open, commerce in an important way, the circulation is enough to go out to see the movement that there is. We have limited classes, cinemas, restaurants, but that always remains for the end.
P. How do you respond to the opposition’s criticism of the quarantine?
R. I was not surprised. When we said that we bought all the respirators to distribute them more fairly, they came out to say that we were Marxists. Now that everyone has respirators they no longer complain. We put 30,000 million pesos (375 million dollars, at the official exchange rate) into the health system, so that the private clinics did not fall. The State bought them monitors, clothes, medicines; we made a brutal effort in a country that had no where to get it from. What has been happening for 20 days is that there is a big difference between those who have to manage, wherever their political sign comes from, and those who are on the other side, who can say what they want.
P. The head of government of the city of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, is an opponent and defends the quarantine.
R. Rodríguez Larreta is a smart guy and he measures public consensus. That the tough wing, represented by [el expresidente Mauricio] Macri and associates are angry with him, it suits him well. Also, that while he meets with the president to manage the other [Macri] being in Monaco is a victory.
P. What are they learning from what is happening now in Europe?
R. That we cannot believe that it has already happened, that the only solution is the vaccine.
P. Will the vaccine solve everything?
R. The vaccine will not solve that there is no virus, it will solve the magnitude of the impact. In addition, a therapy will appear that will reduce the consequences. One of the things I like the most about here is equine serum [para generar anticuerpos en enfermos]. At the Malbrán, which is public, we are already producing it. The tests we have done in vitro They are monstrous, it has between 50 and 200 times more potency than serum made from plasma from recovered people.
P. Is Argentina at the peak of the pandemic?
R. When there is a week when cases drop, we can say that we were at the peak. It is true that we are plagued and that if this plateau does not drop we will have to take more critical measures. At this rate, we are no more than 25 days after the system clogs.
P. You have been a health worker for more than 50 years. Did you have to rethink everything you knew?
R. When I was minister of the province of Buenos Aires, I had cholera, and finally it barely reached Argentina; then I had bird flu in 2005, which seemed to come with everything and it was much less; Now I can say that I have never experienced something that had so much uncertainty, for so long, with such speed and that forced to resort to a medieval recipe, such as confinement. All this in a time where the capacity for invention in the health area is brutal. When I graduated, biological knowledge doubled every 30 years and today it doubles in 71 days. Despite this rate of innovation, so far there is no therapy.
P. And are you confident in the success of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and the AstraZeneca laboratory?
R. Yes, because it has a different technology from all the ones I knew.
P. How was the negotiation that allowed Argentina and Mexico to assume the production of the vaccine for Latin America?
R. In March I said that we had to ensure our participation in a project that did not work with patents, as is usually done, and that the price does not meet market standards. AstraZeneca complies with all of this: they did technology transfer, they are absolutely reasonably priced [en torno a los cuatro dólares] and the possibility of simultaneous presence with the rest of the world. I was very afraid that Latin America would be left out of the vaccine. Now, each country will have a minimum dose for 20% of its population.
P. What will we learn from this pandemic?
R. We may learn how to communicate and cope with such long collective behaviors. In a century that has absolute individualism, it is important to produce feelings of solidarity and community. And I hope it leaves the importance of the health sector on the political agenda. Some countries took health as an expense and the role of the State will now be revitalized.
Information about the coronavirus
– The coronavirus map: this is how cases grow day by day and country by country
– Questions and answers about the coronavirus
– Guide to action against the disease
– In case of symptoms, these are the phones that have been enabled in each Latin American country.