Chile reports 294 deaths, nearly 26,000 coronavirus cases

SANTIAGO – The number of COVID-19 fatalities in Chile rose to a total of 294 on Friday, as the disease ravages the economy of the world’s top copper producer.

The health ministry reported a surge of 1,391 new infections, bringing the total to nearly 26,000 nationwide and dealing a blow to hopes it was over the worst of the crisis.

Large swaths of Santiago, a city of 6 million, are under lockdown, and virtually all non-essential businesses have been closed for weeks.

Earlier this week, Chile ordered strict new quarantine measures on three districts in the capital – Cerillos, Quilicura and Recoleta districts, as well as the northern mining city of Antofagasta – after a sudden spike in coronavirus cases.

Santiago, with a population of seven million, has been the country’s main centre of infections, particularly in its three richest suburbs. However, the virus began to spread in the city’s more densely populated areas over the past couple of weeks.

The setback follows criticism of the reopening of some commercial streets in Santiago after the government last week outlined “a return plan” for the economy.

Chile has Latin America’s highest rate of coronavirus testing – 14,000 a day and nearly 200,000 overall according to officials – and had on Thursday cautiously celebrated evidence infections had peaked.

It was among the first countries to explore the idea of an “immunity passport” for recovered COVID-19 patients to allow people back to work. However, it dropped the measure after the World Health Organization warned there was no certainty the disease could not strike a person twice.

Instead, Chile will provide “discharge cards” to some 10,000 recovered patients. The cards will enable holders to move freely in quarantined areas and to rejoin the workforce.

Chile recorded its first coronavirus case on March 3 and took 23 days to reach 1,000 cases. It took only 13 more days to reach 5,000 on April 7.

Globally, at least 212 countries and territories around the world and 2 international conveyances have been affected, with more than 274,000 people dead and nearly 4 million infected by the disease. A total of 1.37 million people have also recovered from the mysterious illness.