SANTIAGO – The Santiago Metropolitan Region, home to more than a third of Chile’s 19.2 million people, is returning to lockdown in the face of a spike in COVID-19 cases that threatens to overwhelm the health care system, officials said on Thursday.
Coronavirus has claimed 22,524 lives in Chile and infected nearly 955,000 people.
The pace of contagion accelerated in February amid an increase in leisure travel at the height of summer in the Southern Hemisphere and more than 7,000 new cases were detected in the last 24 hours, a one-day record for Chile.
Hospitals are in a crisis, with 95 percent of intensive care beds nationwide occupied.
“We are experiencing a worrisome situation and we need an ultimate effort,” Health Minister Enrique Paris told a press conference.
“Today we have 3,516 beds (available). In the coming days, we expect to make an additional effort and increase by 200 additional beds,” Health Ministry officials Alberto Dougnac said.
The rate of positivity in COVID-19 testing is 9.6 percent, well above the 5 percent level classified by the World Health Organization as dangerously high.
Chile has begun requiring proof of a negative coronavirus test from foreigners seeking to enter the country.
Once admitted, international visitors must spend five days in isolation at a transit hotel and test negative again before they are allowed to proceed to their final destination in Chile, where they have to quarantine for another five days.
Chilean authorities say they have detected at least 100 cases of the more-infectious British and Brazilian variants of COVID-19.
Paradoxically, the emergence of the second wave coincides with Chile’s success on the vaccination front.
More than six million Chileans – nearly 40 percent of those eligible – have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. Only Israel and the United Arab Emirates have vaccinated larger proportions of their respective populations.
“The vaccine is a ray of hope,” Paris said. “However, we are going to have the herd immunity effect in June. Before then, we have to continue to take care because we have high viral circulation.”