Chile at 1 mn Covid cases, pandemic out of control, borders closed
A motorist drives along an almost empty avenue in Santiago, Chile, on March 27, 2021, with coronavirus quarantine restrictions in place almost everywhere in the country. EFE-EPA/Alberto Valdes
Santiago, Apr 1 (efe-epa).- Chile on Thursday reached the grim milestone of 1 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, with the pandemic raging more virulently than ever, hospitals on the verge of collapse, 83 percent of the population confined and new variants of the disease spreading, a situation that has forced the authorities to close the borders for the month of April.
"We're experiencing very complicated times in the pandemic, not only in Chile but in the whole world," government spokesman Jaime Bellolio said.
"We've had to take stricter measures with the single objective of taking care of people," he added at a press conference.
The closure of the borders, which will become effective on April 5 and last at least until May 1, had been expected for several days, when medical unions and the political opposition began to clamor about the unstoppable spread of the pandemic.
Chile several days ago implemented harsh restrictions on tourists, who have to have a negative PCR test and go through a five-day quarantine in a special hotel paid for out of their own pockets before they are then allowed to spend another five days in their selected lodgings. Only then will they be allowed to travel around the country freely.
Starting Monday, Chileans and local residents will be prohibited from traveling abroad unless they need to do so for urgent reasons, on humanitarian business or for health treatment, just like the tourist arrivals, while truckers entering Chile by land will have to show a negative PCR test at the border.
This is the second border closure Chile has implemented since the start of the pandemic, the first one prevailing from March to November last year.
What we were asking people to do for months is a measure that's been a little late, but we're grateful. Our monitoring of patients who come in from abroad is very weak," the general secretary of the Medical College, Jose Miguel Bernucci, told the local press.
Authorities also announced an overnight curfew starting at 9 pm, the restriction of economic activities and limitations on people going out of their homes, measures that are designed to reduce the public's mobility by some 30 percent.
The Santiago Chamber of Commerce, however, criticized these measures, which it called discriminatory against small and medium businessmen, claiming that they could be "unconstitutional."
The second wave of the pandemic began in Chile in December with the arrival of the Southern Hemisphere summer and got worse in late February, the big vacation month in the South American nation, although Chile never actually managed to get the first wave under control, experiencing its worst period last June-July when the hospital network was at its limit and 40 percent of people getting a PCR test were testing positive.
Last month, however, Chile broke all the first wave's records.
Over the past 24 hours, more than 7,800 new Covid-19 cases were detected, the highest daily total in the pandemic so far, and 193 people died, bringing the totals to more than a million infections and 23,328 deaths, to which must be added almost 8,000 additional deaths of people suspected of dying from Covid-19 although that was never confirmed with a PCR test.
Experts say that the rapid rate of vaccination in Chile could have worked against the country by making people overconfident, augmented by the fact that people are just plain tired of restrictions on their activities after the past year.