ROSARIO, Argentina – During a liturgy on Tuesday marking the revolution that led to Argentina’s independence, the cardinal of Buenos Aires issued a strong message of support for the nationwide measures imposed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“We all know that defending the people means an economic meltdown. It would be sad if we opted for the opposite,” said Cardinal Mario Aurelio Poli, handpicked by Pope Francis to replace him as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Speaking during a Te Deum – a traditional Church service for thanksgiving – the cardinal referred to the pandemic as “a virus that blows everything up in the air and forces us to look back at what is essential.”

“A caring look should lead us to share with those who have less than us,” Poli said, and then thanked the work of all those who leave their homes in the midst of the pandemic to fight against the disease.

“With their silent and daily sacrifices, they are the ones who are writing honorable and moving pages in the history of the nation. They are part of a crusade for life, valued by those of us who are at home and depend on them.”

The comments came three days after Argentine President Alberto Fernandez announced that the restrictions put in place in March 20 will continue at least until June 7.

Argentina so far has 12,063 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 452 deaths.

Close to 90 percent of the cases of COVID-19 are in Buenos Aires, and both the ruling party and the opposition have worked closely to try to prevent the spread of the virus.

Although many provinces are trying to ease the restrictions to try to avoid a complete financial meltdown, quarantining Buenos Aires from the rest of the country has proved impossible. Truck drivers delivering necessities and other goods from the capital to the interior of the country has been cited as the main cause of the spread outside the capital.

As in other countries, the lockdown measures were meant to “flatten the curve” and buy the health care system time to prepare and save lives.

A sudden spike would still overwhelm Argentina’s hospitals, but 2,000 ICU beds have been added to the country’s complicated healthcare system in the past few months. While access to health care is a constitutional right for the people in the country, the quality of that care varies widely, reflecting the country’s immense income disparity.

Around 10 percent of the population – mostly in urban areas – purchase their own insurance to get access to private hospitals that are able to lure the best physicians and nurses with higher wages and better hours.

Yet doctors often work in both the private and public sector, meaning excellent medical care can still be found in the underfunded and understaffed public hospitals.

During the Te Deum, Poli said “the globalization of the illness, with its quota of pain and death, today makes us realize that humanity is one.”

“A few days ago, the pope stated that some governments have taken exemplary measures, with well-defined priorities to defend the population,” Poli said in his livestreamed remarks in an empty cathedral.

“It’s true that these measures annoy those who are obliged to comply with them, but it is always for the common good. And in the long run, most people accept them and go with a positive attitude. Governments facing crises in this way show the priority of their decisions: People first,” the cardinal continued.

“This is important because defending people is an economic meltdown,” he insisted. Yet, “it would be sad, as the pope said, if the opposite was chosen, which would lead to the death of many people. Something like a viral genocide.”

“To count ourselves as those who take care of life as the most precious gift makes us proud and identifies us with the sacrifice of the generation that gave rise to what we are today as a nation,” Poli said.

Although he avoided any direct reference to an abortion legalization bill being pushed by the Fernandez administration, some observers saw the reference of protecting life, including “the most vulnerable ones” as a clear reference to proposed law.

Poli said that during the pandemic, there is “no place to take to the terrain of ideologies, partisan positions or sectoral interests, since it is about deciding on the life of all Argentines and, therefore, it is necessary to preserve unity.”

The national Te Deum has been held since 1810, when Argentina formed its first provisional government that would lead to its official independence from Spain six years later.