Despite hosting the world’s fastest per capita Covid-19 vaccination campaign, Chile has been forced to announce new strict lockdowns as it dives deeper into a second wave of severe cases that stretch capacity intensive care.
Chile is only behind Israel and the United Arab Emirates in terms of vaccine doses per 100 people worldwide, but new cases have increased rapidly amid mixed health messages, travel during the holidays of summer of the southern hemisphere and the circulation of new variants.
Nearly half of the South American nation’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, but on Friday Chile recorded 7,626 new cases in a 24-hour period – the highest total at any time in the pandemic – and it approaches 1 million cases in total now.
More than 80% of the country’s 19 million people, including all residents of the capital, Santiago, have been subject to a strict lockdown that prevents them from leaving home even to buy groceries or household supplies. pharmacy this weekend. During the week, each person is entitled to two short-term permits to leave the house to buy essentials and can exercise outdoors between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Only 169 intensive care beds remain available nationwide – an occupancy rate of over 95%.
Health officials have advocated for people to stay indoors when possible.
“The new variants arriving in Chile are of great concern, and we indeed have one pandemic on another now,” said Dr Ximena Aguilera, an epidemiologist who sits on the government’s Covid-19 advisory committee.
“Unlike before, we are also seeing severe cases in young people, and there is a feeling that some people have become complacent towards the end of the summer with the vaccinations going so well.
A total of 22,587 people have died in the country after contracting the virus, and British and Brazilian strains of the virus have been detected in Chile. Its cumulative death rate relative to the population remains much lower than that of Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Argentina.
Chile successfully launched its vaccination campaign among frontline health workers on December 24, and aims to have 80% of the country’s residents vaccinated by June 30.
More than 6 million people have received at least one dose of the Chinese Sinovac or American Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and 3.2 million have had both vaccines.
Chile continues to lead other countries in the region: its rate of 49.19 doses of vaccination per 100 people is well above the 7.79 of Brazil, its closest competitor. In early March, the Chilean government was even able to donate 20,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine to Ecuador and Paraguay.
Adoption of the vaccine has been good among older Chileans, who are accustomed to extensive winter flu campaigns thanks to a strong public health network. Anyone aged 50 and over can receive a first dose before April 10.
“The problem with communication is that it hasn’t been consistent across government,” Aguilera explained. “While the Ministry of Health has repeatedly called on people to take care of themselves, the Minister of the Economy has opened casinos, gymnasiums and cinemas.”
Others cited government-issued vacation permits that allowed movement between parts of the country during the summer.
The Santiago metropolitan region is home to almost 40% of Chile’s population and is the only one of its 16 regions that does not have a coastline. In much of the city, people are crammed into small apartments with limited access to green spaces and recreation areas, and Aguilera’s committee strongly recommended that people be released from the cities during the summer, provided that precautions are taken.
However, with international travel still allowed, many Chileans took advantage of cheap flights to Miami, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and other destinations, prompting the government to tighten restrictions on returning travelers – but not before the end of summer vacation.
Anyone entering the country from March 31 will now have to stay in a hotel for five days at their own expense, before completing another five days of quarantine elsewhere.
“I am convinced that the vaccines will ease the workload once a sufficient proportion of the population has received their vaccines, but it is unlikely that a positive effect in terms of reducing hospitalizations and severe cases in people. older people be observed before mid-April, ”Aguilera said.