By Patricia Nieto Mariño
Santiago, Jul 15 (EFE).- This capital was a hive of activity Thursday as Chilean authorities relaxed pandemic restrictions against the backdrop of a sharp decline in new Covid-19 infections.
Gyms, cinemas, theaters and museums re-opened in Santiago and many other urban centers after 18 months of lockdowns of varying severity.
“Today’s information is very positive, we have a change of minus 40 percent in new daily cases in the last two weeks and (test) positivity is 3.3 percent, the lowest on record,” Health Minister Enrique Paris said.
More than 34,200 Chileans have died of coronavirus, a large proportion of them during the second wave that slammed the country a few months ago.
In conjunction with the easing of restrictions, the vaccination certificates the government began issuing in May have taken on greater significance, as the documents will be required for access to indoor venues and even to move freely within neighborhoods under quarantine.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get vaccinated, but finally I am going to do it, it’s the only way I have now to be able to enter a restaurant,” a young woman named Sofia Antifilo told Efe in Santiago.
Chile has organized one of the world’s most successful inoculation programs. More than 75 percent of suitable recipients are fully vaccinated and nearly 85 percent have received at least one dose.
The Chilean tourism and hospitality sectors welcome the liberalization.
“We are happy to be able to open inside,” Eric Llanten said at his small cafe in the Chilean capital. “Things have been very bad for us and this step is fundamental to move ahead now with the cold and the (Southern Hemisphere) winter.”
But members of the medical and public health community say it is too soon to open up, especially with the looming threat of the more dangerous Delta variant of coronavirus, which has been detected in the country.
“We still have a group who resist getting vaccinated and right now these (restrictive) measures are the only tool we have to try to stop the pandemic,” University of Chile epidemiologist Gabriel Cavada told Efe.
Patricio Meza, president of Chile’s medical association, urged caution when it comes to opening the borders.
“The numbers are going down, but making the entry and exit of people at the airport more flexible is not advisable,” he said.
Under the current plan, the borders will remain closed at least until July 25. EFE pnm/dr