Chile opens special residences as COVID-19 tally reaches 82,289


SANTIAGO – The total number of coronavirus cases in Chile reached 82,289, the government said Wednesday, while 841 people have died from the disease.

President Sebastian Piñera said on Wednesday that Chile is expanding the country’s Sanitary Network, which now includes 66 spaces with more than 2,500 rooms, where patients have food, around-the-clock medical attention, internet access and television.

Piñera said they plan to double the capacity to be able to accommodate more patients because the public health service “is very close to its maximum capacity.”

Chile’s government is struggling to control a coronavirus outbreak that could revive mass social unrest as its hospital system comes under increasing pressure. With a population of 18 million, Chile is reporting new Covid-19 cases at a pace comparable to that of Spain at the peak of the virus’ spread in March, on a per capita basis, and resources are close to maxed out in Latin America’s wealthiest economy.

Adding to the public health crisis, the situation has highlighted the inequality and poor public services that drove thousands of protesters to the streets last October. In Santiago, the nation’s capital, 95% of intensive care beds are occupied, and hospital patients are being airlifted to other parts of the country. The country witnessed a record jump of nearly 5,000 confirmed cases on Monday, with another rise of over 4,000 and 35 more fatalities on Tuesday.

At least 33,540 people have also recovered from the disease since the outbreak began.

That came on the back of a surge in infections last week, which prompted the government to order the lockdown of Santiago, the main focus of the pandemic in Chile. The Senate was also closed after three senators tested positive for the coronavirus. Sessions were held by video conference. The latest model projections by the University of Washington see deaths rising to nearly 12,000 in Chile by August.

The Pan-American Health Organization said this week that the Americas has become the new epicenter of the coronavirus, warning that the spike in deaths across Latin America can last into August.

With cases still on the rise, Health Minister Jaime Manalich has announced lockdown measures in the capital Santiago and the metropolitan area, home to 7 million residents, will be extended beyond the May 29 deadline.

“The reality (of the outbreak) is much more powerful than any simulation,” Manalich said at a press conference, dismissing early predictions on how the virus would spread.

Since early this year, the government has been preparing for “the worst case scenario,” which would be 100,000 cases of infection and potential carriers of the virus at the same time, he added.

Manalich also chided Chileans for failing to practice social distancing.

“We are maintaining a level of mobility and of contact with others, and failing to wash our hands and to use face masks, which is evident. Many television channels have documented it and it puts us in a high-risk situation of an increase in cases and the extension of lockdown measures,” said the health minister.

Chile surpasses countries most hit by COVID-19 in daily cases per million inhabitants