Punta Arenas, Chile, Jan 25 (EFE).- Considered the most contagious strain to date, the Omicron coronavirus variant has managed to penetrate the Magallanes region of Chile, often referred to as ‘the end of the world’ and the gateway to Antarctica.
Despite being one of the most remote places in the world, with a low population density due to its harsh climate, the southern region has recorded one of the highest infection rates in the country, with an 18% positivity rate.
“We currently have only one available bed in intensive care and most of the admissions are Omicron patients,” director of ICU at the Hospital Clínico de Magallanes, Dr. Andres Prieto, told Efe.
The virus poses a threat to the little health infrastructure available in the remote and rural region.
If hospitalizations continue to increase, health authorities will be forced to evacuate patients by air, a scenario that already happened during the peak of the pandemic in 2020.
Despite Chile having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with 92% of the population having received the full course of the Covid-19 vaccine, infections have soared in recent months.
In January, positivity rates increased from 1% to 13% and infections exceeded 14,000 per day, an all-time high since the beginning of the pandemic in Chile.
In Magallanes, the increase in cases coincided with the arrival of tourist cruise ships, who often make a stop over in Punta Arenas before flying to Antarctica.
“The ships dock here and all the tourists get off. We haven’t seen this amount of people since before the pandemic,” Punta Arenas resident, Ximena Palacio, tells Efe.
Chile reopened its border to vaccinated tourists in October 2021, imposing strict restrictions including a mandatory PCR test before departure and upon arrival. EFE