Chile starts opening up Santiago amid spread of contagious Delta variant

Santiago, Jun 29 (EFE).- About 3.8 million people came out of quarantine in the Chilean capital on Tuesday, where hospitals have been on the verge of collapse for weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic and are now dealing with the very contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, the arrival of which in the country was confirmed last week.

Just one day after the second case of the Delta variant was detected in Chile in a student coming from Armenia, restaurants and non-essential businesses opened their doors once again, putting an end to the third total lockdown in Santiago since the health crisis erupted early in 2020.

A total of 24 capital neighborhoods lifted their full quarantine and eight additional municipalities will do so on Thursday, when most of Santiago will be a free-movement zone from Monday through Friday, although a quarantine will still prevail throughout the capital on weekends.

The Chilean Medical College, however, has urged authorities to take measures “proportional to the potential seriousness of the arrival of the Delta variant” and confirmed that quickly lifting the lockdown measures ensure that the virus “will continue to circulate.”

“This variant is more contagious, has a different manner of affecting (people, and) initially presents slight symptoms. We must be very attentive,” said Patricio Meza, the president of the association.

Some municipalities have been in total quarantine for almost 100 consecutive days, the confinement decreed by the various local governments amid a second coronavirus wave that got worse in March and put the country’s hospital system on the ropes.

“We’re very tired of the lockdown. We all really want to do things, (and) the quarantines affect (that). It’s a psychological issue,” Jorge Guerra, a Santiago resident, told EFE.

The Delta variant, which the World Health Organization has already detected in more than 90 countries, has raised the alarm among authorities all over the world due to its highly contagious nature.

In Chile, a country that has kept its borders closed since April except for urgently necessary trips, authorities last Thursday intercepted an infected 43-year-old woman who had traveled from the United States on an emergency basis.

After detecting the second case of the Delta variant, a student who entered the country on June 17, authorities said that passengers who traveled on that person’s flight are being contacted and the spread of the variant is being traced.

The Delta variant was detected for the first time in India last October and is becoming the dominant strain of the coronavirus around the world, the WHO says.

Despite the fact that last week the number of new infections and positive coronavirus tests in Chile declined, the occupation rate in intensive care units stands at about 95 percent and the saturation of hospitals with Covid-19 patients has become the country’s main challenge.

The number of Covid patients in serious condition has not fallen below 3,000 for months and the healthcare network on Tuesday had only 274 beds available in critical care units around the country.

In the last 24 hours, 2,648 new Covid cases were detected and 35 people died from the disease, raising the total confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic in Chile to 1.55 million, along with a death toll of 32,489.

The wave of infections comes despite the fact that the country has implemented one of the most successful anti-Covid vaccination plans in the world, which to date has provided more than 80 percent of Chile’s population – that is, 15.2 million of the country’s 19 million inhabitants – with at least one dose of the available vaccines.

About 68 percent of the public has received two doses, with China’s Sinovac, with Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and CanSino vaccines also available.


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