SANTIAGO – An additional 4,608 cases of COVID-19 were detected in Chile over the last 24 hours to bring the total to 246,983, the health ministry said on Monday as experts warned the government of the need for “drastic” action to prevent the disease from claiming 70,000 lives in this Andean nation.
Chile, with 18 million inhabitants, is seventh worldwide in the number of confirmed coronavirus infections, trailing only the United States (population: 330 million), Brazil (210 million), Russia (145 million), India (1.35 billion), the United Kingdom (67 million) and Peru (32 million).
The tallies maintained by Johns Hopkins University show Chile with one of the largest numbers of cases per every 1 million residents, though it also is a leader in the volume of testing.
“We have always said that the situation is worrisome,” Health Minister Enrique Paris said in regard to the warning issued on Monday by organizations representing epidemiologists, microbiologists and researchers.
The authors said their prediction of a worst-case scenario of 70,000 deaths was based on the assumption that 60 percent of Chileans will become infected and that 0.6 percent of those patients will die.
In an open letter published under the title “Chile is in mourning, but we can still save lives,” the physicians and scientists accused the government of right-wing President Sebastian Piñera of having done far too little to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Authorities have not “implemented a real and effective confinement in Greater Santiago (home to nearly a third of Chile’s people) and other regions with a high rate of contagion,” the missive said.
With the latest cases, Chile surpassed Spain in the number of infections, prompting some to recall Piñera’s claim on March 18 that his country was “much better prepared” to cope with the pandemic than the Iberian nation.
Paris has only been on the job since last week, when predecessor Jaime Mañalich stepped down amid an outcry following the revelation that the health ministry was reporting significantly higher numbers of COVID-19 fatalities to the World Health Organization than it was acknowledging publicly.
The reporting by investigative media outlet CIPER led the ministry to revise the official death toll from 4,502 to 7,571 by including suspected coronavirus fatalities where the presence of the virus was not confirmed by testing.
Santiago, where a quarantine has been in effect since May 15, is the No. 4 city globally in the number of COVID-19, behind only New York, Moscow and Sao Paulo, according to Johns Hopkins.