Chilean President Sebastian Pinera warned on Tuesday that the country would experience its “greatest health challenge in decades” following a spike in new coronavirus cases across the region. As of late Thursday, the country has a total caseload of 37,040 and 368 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
In the capital city of Santiago, Health Minister Jaime Manalich announced a general quarantine to head off new cases. The “extraordinary, tough new measures” will take effect Friday. The quarantine will also cover people over 75 years of age in the country.
“The month of May is proving very tough on our country,” he added. The health minister reported that there were over 2,600 new coronavirus cases in the past two days – a 60-percent increase from the start of the week.
The cordon sanitaire will also include the regions surrounding the 6.5 million-strong city. According to local authorities, the edict comes on the heels of a wave of new cases in wealthier parts of Santiago. The coronavirus was first identified among residents returning from trips to Italy and Asia.
Manalich pleaded with residents to take the new measures seriously, and report anyone violating the general quarantine.
“In reality, the battle for Santiago is THE crucial battle in the war against coronavirus,” he said, adding that the government has done over 313,750 tests, to date.
The minister also sought to allay fears that the country’s health system is on the brink of collapse, saying that patients and essential equipment have been transferred to potential hotspots.
“We don’t fear a collapse but in the event that these actions we’re taking work and are respected,” Manalich stated. “We need the commitment of every citizen, to understands what is at play here and respect all the measures so we don’t face a collapse in the system because of a vertiginous increase in cases.”
The city is also preparing for the increase in coronavirus-related fatalities that come with a spike in new cases. Local authorities have said that thousands of fresh graves are being dug in Santiago’s General Cemetery.
“We realize that this is a historical moment and that we may need more graves, because we see what’s happened in other countries,” cemetery director Rashid Saud told AFP.
To cope with the potential rise in deaths, Saud said that gravediggers were preparing 2,000 fresh graves. Unlike other countries, which have resorted to mass graves to take in dead people and rotting corpses en masse, the individual graves were dug in advance, and in hopes that “[they] will not have to use them.”
But according to Luis Yevenes, the head of the cemetery workers’ union, the situation in other Chilean cities is far different than that of Santiago. In particular, he expressed his concern about the lack of capacity in cemeteries in Valparaiso and Vina del Mar in the center, and the cities of Concepcion and Talcahuano farther south.
Meanwhile, both Brazil and Mexico – whose presidents have been pushing to reopen their economies – reported a record one-day rise in new coronavirus cases on Thursday.
Brazil, the hardest-hit country in Latin America, reported 13,944 new cases to bring its total caseload to 203,165, with 13,999 deaths, while Mexico reported 2,409 new infections to bring its total confirmed cases to 42,595, with 4,477 deaths.
Brazil registered a daily record of 13,944 new cases. This brings its total to 202,918 confirmed cases of the virus and 13,933 deaths since the outbreak began, according to health ministry data. However, President Jair Bolsonaro continued to downplay the impact of the pandemic and has pushed for lifting the lockdown in Sao Paolo.
Mexico reported 2,409 new infections, bringing its total confirmed COVID-19 cases to 42,595. An additional 257 coronavirus deaths brought total fatalities to 4,477. (Related: Mexico now cremating the dead on an “industrial scale” as the coronavirus pandemic reaches “staggering” number of fatalities… all covered up, China-style.)
“We are in the most difficult moment of the first wave of the epidemic,” explained Hugo Lopez-Gatell, who heads Mexico’s coronavirus response. The deputy health minister also warned that the country was still at the peak of its pandemic cycle, with government data showing over half of the hospitals in Mexico City were saturated with coronavirus patients.
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