More than a third of the country's population of 18 million have received at least one dose of the Wuhan coronavirus vaccines. Chile approved the Pfizer/BioNTech and Sinovac Biotech jabs for use in its population. But a spike of coronavirus infections that stretched the Chilean health system thin prompted the return of strict lockdown measures. On the other hand, Israel exclusively administered the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to its citizens. It also implemented a "green pass" vaccine passport system that restricted people who have not yet been inoculated from visiting certain establishments.
According to a Guardian op-ed, Chile's speedy vaccination program may have instilled a false sense of security in Chileans who may have tried to return to normalcy without considering that the risk of COVID-19 is still around. It reopened its borders in November 2020 and introduced permits for citizens to go on summer holiday two months later. The lack of strict controls on inbound travelers and effective contact tracing inadvertently allowed previously undetected infections to enter Chile.
Furthermore, the op-ed mentioned that reopening schools alongside churches and other business establishments would have facilitated the spread of the pathogen. Given the high transmission rates in the country, a far greater proportion of Chileans would need to be inoculated to allow it to keep a step ahead of the infections.
A report drafted by the Chilean Universidad del Desarrollo, which tracked mobile phone data, said there were vast increases in people's movement in January and February 2021. This period also corresponded with Chileans being allowed to travel for vacation purposes. Because of the loosened restrictions, the virus managed to spread and cause more infections alongside the movement of 5 million people.
Chile's government ordered a full lockdown effective April 1, with health authorities mandating a return to stringent measures. Seventy percent of Chileans were confined to their residences due to the order. It also banned trips to the supermarket on weekends, which were previously allowed before the lockdown. (Related: "Firebreak" lockdown in Wales sees non-essential items covered in grocery stores.)
The country's daily case count recorded a new high on March 27 with 7,084 new COVID-19 cases. This broke the previous daily record of 6,938 cases from June 2020. Nevertheless, the amount of new COVID-19 infections per day has brought the Chilean health care system close to its breaking point. Critical care bed occupancy is now at 95 percent and health care workers are now taking medical leave because of exhaustion and stress.
Chileans' overconfidence in the coronavirus vaccines caused them to lower their guard. House cleaner Genoveva Fernandez cited an example of this overconfidence when she spoke with NBC News. "I see young people everywhere gathering in big groups. Masks are mandatory in Chile, but I see many youngsters with them around their chins, eating food on the subway [and] just not being careful," she said.
The 59-year-old Fernandez lamented: "I think they believe the government is trying to manipulate them with the rules, but it just feels like they don't care about protecting … older [persons]."
Universidad del Desarrollo Center of Epidemiology and Health Policy Director Dr. Ximena Aguilera also pointed out the role of young people and increased movement in spreading the virus. She said: "Young people are drivers of the pandemic, but large increases in mobility over the recent summer also appear to be a major [cause] of the increase in infections."
Aguilera, who also serves as a COVID-19 adviser to the Chilean Ministry of Health, then issued a warning. "We are now at a critical stage – and in a race between having enough intensive care units and staff for patients, and the protection we hope will be gained by continuing the vaccines," she remarked. (Related: THOUSANDS of graves dug in Chile in preparation for coronavirus surge.)
Based on Johns Hopkins University data, Chile currently has a COVID-19 caseload of 1.04 million cases with 965,641 recoveries and 23,734 deaths.
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