SANTIAGO – Chileans are facing new, more stringent coronavirus restrictions starting Monday, with the nation’s borders closed, the capital’s airport deserted and a more restrictive curfew in place to contain a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
Long lines of arriving passengers were seen on Sunday at the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport outside Santiago, a day before it was closed for a month to tourists, permanent residents and Chilean citizens.
Chile had already sealed off its borders between March and November 2020, but it is now being forced to close them again due to a worsening health emergency that is putting its hospital system under severe strain.
The bed occupancy rate at intensive care units currently stands at 95 percent, the highest level since the onset of the pandemic.
Chile reported more than 7,300 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Sunday and nearly 8,000 new confirmed cases on Saturday, while more than 200 deaths this weekend in that South American nation were attributed to COVID-19.
To date, the country has reported more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 23,600 COVID-19 deaths.
“The entire world is experiencing this serious resurgence of the coronavirus,” President Sebastian Piñera said during an official event. “In Chile, we’ve been hard hit by this new onslaught, which has (stretched) our health system to the limit.”
Chile had already placed strict restrictions on inbound travelers several days ago.
They were required to show a negative PCR test result on arrival and spend 10 days in quarantine, including covering the cost of a five-day stay in a special hotel.
The curfew start time, meanwhile, was moved up to 9:00 pm beginning Monday due to the rapid increase in new coronavirus cases and test positivity rates, a situation spurred in part by the arrival of new variants originating in the United Kingdom and Brazil.
Chile’s second wave began at the start of the Southern Hemisphere summer in December and worsened in March after the February vacation period.
More than 83 percent of the Chilean population is currently under lockdown, including Santiago, a city home to more than seven million people where all non-essential businesses are closed.
Public health experts blame Piñera’s administration for the recent sharp rise in cases, saying it made the ill-advised decision to ease restrictions during the summer months due to an over-reliance on the country’s successful vaccine rollout.
Nearly seven million people – or roughly 45 percent of the population – have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the third-highest level per-capita worldwide.
“We’ve never underestimated the pandemic,” Piñera said. “We’ve made mistakes, but we’ve tried to correct them.”