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20 Jun 2021 0:30
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  •   Home > News > International

    Chile, after vaccinating 60pc of population, locks down capital due to COVID-19 surge

    Chilean health authorities announce a blanket lockdown across the capital, Santiago, despite having fully vaccinated more than half its population.

    Chilean health authorities have announced a blanket lockdown across the capital, Santiago, despite having fully vaccinated more than half its population. 

    The development will alarm authorities elsewhere who are debating how fast to reopen as vaccination campaigns gather steam.

    Chile's confirmed daily caseload surged 17 per cent in the past two weeks nationwide and 25 per cent in the Metropolitan region that includes Santiago and is home to half the country's population.

    Intensive care beds in the capital region are now at 98 per cent capacity.

    Jose Luis Espinoza, the president of Chile's National Federation of Nursing Associations, said his members were "on the verge of collapse".

    Chile has one of the highest coronavirus vaccination rates in the world.

    Around 75 per cent of its 15 million residents have already received at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 58 per cent are completely inoculated.

    On a per capita basis among larger countries, it is the vaccination leader in the Americas and the fifth-highest worldwide, according to Reuters data.

    It has used nearly 23 million vaccines doses so far — 17.2 million of Sinovac's, 4.6 million of Pfizer/BioNTech's and less than 1 million each of AstraZeneca's and CanSino's.

    Vaccines are not 100 per cent effective, medical experts pointed out, and there is a time lag before they reach their highest efficacy.

    Also driving the fierce second wave is lockdown fatigue and the appearance of more contagious variants.

    Of 7,716 people confirmed as infected with COVID-19 between Wednesday and Thursday, 73 per cent had not been fully inoculated and 74 per cent were under 49 years old, the health ministry said.

    Dr Cesar Cortes, emergency physician at the University of Chile hospital, said people who stayed home last year were now more afraid of being without work.

    "Last year, there was low circulation and the confinement measures were more effective because people were scared of dying," he said.

    "That's not happening now."

    Without its vaccines, Chile would be far worse off, he said.

    "The complicated situation we are seeing now would be catastrophic," he said.

    Chile's health regulator, the ISP, said genome sequencing of infections between December and June had confirmed the Brazilian P1 variant, also known as Gamma, was the most prevalent in the country and "twice as contagious as the original strain".

    Chile is now vaccinating teenagers, having offered jabs to older age groups.

    Two weeks ago it introduced green cards to confer greater freedom on the vaccinated in an attempt to encourage the wary to come forward.

    An infectious disease specialist at a large Santiago hospital, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak officially, said vaccines could not completely relieve the overburdened hospitals.

    "Around 10 per cent of people, even if they are vaccinated, will not be protected against serious illness," they said. 

    "That's hundreds of thousands of people going to ICUs.

    "And when our health system is strained to the limit as it is now, that percentage alone is enough to overwhelm them."



    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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