By Aislinn Laing and Gabriela Donoso
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chilean health authorities announced on Thursday a general lockdown in the capital Santiago, following some of the worst numbers of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, despite fully vaccinating more than half of its population.
The event, which will alarm authorities elsewhere who are debating how quickly to reopen as vaccination campaigns gain steam, comes as Chile’s number of confirmed daily cases rose 17% in the last two weeks across the country. the country and 25% in the metropolitan region that includes Santiago and is home to half of the country’s population.
Intensive care beds in the capital region are now at 98% capacity. José Luis Espinoza, president of the National Federation of Nursing Associations of Chile (FENASENF), said that its members were “on the verge of collapse.”
Chile has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. About 75% of its 15 million inhabitants have already received at least one dose of vaccine and almost 58% are fully inoculated. On a per capita basis among the largest countries, it is the leader in vaccination in the Americas and the fifth highest worldwide, according to Reuters data.
It has used nearly 23 million doses of vaccines so far: 17.2 million from Sinovac, 4.6 million from Pfizer / BioNTech, and less than 1 million from AstraZeneca (L 🙂 and CanSino’s.
Vaccines are not 100% effective, medical experts noted, and there is a time lag before they reach their maximum effectiveness. Also driving the fierce second wave is lockdown fatigue and the emergence of more contagious variants.
Of 7,716 people confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 between Wednesday and Thursday, 73% had not been fully inoculated and 74% were under the age of 49, the Health Ministry said.
Dr. César Cortés, an emergency physician at the University of Chile hospital, said that people who stayed home last year are now more afraid of being out of work.
“Last year there was little circulation and the confinement measures were more effective because people were afraid of dying,” he said. “That is not happening now.”
Without its vaccines, Chile would be much worse off, he said.
“The complicated situation that we are seeing now would be catastrophic,” he said.
Chile’s health regulator ISP said genome sequencing of infections between December and June had confirmed that the Brazilian variant P1 was the most prevalent in the country and “twice as contagious as the original strain.”
Chile is now embarking on vaccinating adolescents, having offered injections to older age groups. Two weeks ago, he introduced green cards to give vaccinated more freedom in an attempt to encourage the cautious to come forward.
An infectious disease specialist at a large Santiago hospital, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak officially, said vaccines could not fully relieve overburdened hospitals.
“About 10% of people, even if they are vaccinated, will not be protected against serious diseases. That is, hundreds of thousands of people who go to ICUs,” he said. “And when our healthcare system is on edge as it is now, that percentage alone is enough to overwhelm them.”