Chile sees Covid surge despite vaccination success

(BBC) – Chile’s Health Minister Enrique Paris has been striking a gloomy note at his daily Covid news conferences in recent days.

The number of daily cases reached a new record high on 9 April, going over 9,000 for the first time since the pandemic began and considerably higher than the previous peak of just under 7,000 cases in mid-June.

“It’s worrying,” he said last Friday. “We’re going through a critical moment of the pandemic… I urge you to take care of yourselves, of your loved ones, of your families.”

Intensive care units are again overwhelmed, the country has for a second time closed its borders to everyone who is not a resident and most of its 18 million inhabitants are back in lockdown.

“It feels like we’re going backwards,” says Santiago resident Sofía Pinto. “We need to download special permits online to be allowed out just twice a week for essential things like food shopping or doctor’s visits.”

The frustration and confusion many Chileans are feeling over the renewed lockdown is due partly to the fact that just two months ago, President Sebastián Piñera was boasting about Chile having one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in the world.

What went wrong?

Critics have accused the Piñera government of getting caught up in triumphalism over the vaccine rollout and of having loosened coronavirus restrictions too fast.

Like governments across the world, ministers here faced difficult choices.

Chile’s borders had been closed – bar for a few exceptions – from March to November 2020. But after a strict lockdown had driven the rolling seven-day average down to 1,300 cases in November, the decision was taken to reopen them, including to international tourists.

Chileans were also given special holiday permits to travel more freely around the country during the southern hemisphere summer holidays after some experts argued it was important for people’s mental health.

Restaurants, shops, and holiday resorts were opened up to kickstart the faltering economy.

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