As of the early hours of this Saturday, Santiago de Chile has once again entered quarantine. The entire region begins with the mobility restriction measure when 57.8% of the country’s target population has completed their covid-19 vaccination scheme, but ICUs are on the verge of collapse. According to the latest figures provided by the Undersecretary of Health, Paula Daza, the occupation of critical beds reaches 96% nationwide. But the vast majority of seriously ill patients are not immunized and there is a worrying decrease in the age of patients admitted to critical beds. Patients under 50 years of age in ICUs have tripled compared to the worst moment of last year, according to ICOVID, an initiative led by the University of Chile, the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and the University of Concepción on the basis of official data . The deaths reach 38,685, between confirmed and suspected.
The Chilean capital is made up of 52 municipalities that, together, were in quarantine for 31 days, between March and April. Some areas, such as Peñalolén, in the foothills, and the popular Puente Alto, in the south of the city, did not even manage to get out of the restriction measure before this new outbreak. With eight million inhabitants (40% of the country’s population), Santiago has just 42 critical beds available in the integrated network of the public and private system, according to the Chilean Society of Intensive Medicine (Sochimi).
This Friday, at hours when the city closes again, the streets were full of cars and traffic jams since noon. In shopping centers, such as the popular Costanera Center, in the municipality of Providencia, people made long lines to enter to make the last purchases, despite the high circulation of covid-19 that will again close schools throughout the region . Today, 60% of the national GDP is affected by quarantines and this Sunday, 13 of the 16 regions of the country will celebrate the second round of their first democratic elections for governors amid a new wave that could strongly affect electoral participation.
Chile has administered some 20,000,000 doses, especially from the Chinese Coronavac from the Sinovac laboratory. According to the report of the Ministry of Health, the vaccine is 80% effective in preventing deaths (after 14 days of the second dose), 89% in avoiding admissions to critical patients units, 85% in preventing hospitalizations and 67% to prevent the symptomatic contagion of the disease. The process has advanced rapidly since it began in February and 21-year-olds will be summoned next Monday. Meanwhile, the following week will end with the immunization of those of legal age and start of those under 17 to 12, who will be protected with Pfizer. But although the vaccine is available throughout the country thanks to the robust National Immunization Program and the efforts of the Government of Sebastián Piñera to stock up with doses like no other country in the region, 2,815,805 people voluntarily called to get vaccinated have chosen not to prick themselves against covid-19. Above all, between 30 and 39 years (852,647 laggards) and between 23 and 30 years (782,614), according to the Department of Statistics and Health Information of the ministry.
Government health authorities attribute this new outbreak to various factors. Undersecretary Daza explained on Thursday that South America is being hit hard by the pandemic, both due to the number of cases and deaths. He referred to the 16-month health crisis, the decrease in risk perception, the entry of new variants of the virus and explained that, although at the national level the cases have stabilized, the situation in Santiago and the small number of of critical beds available. The arrival of winter does not help, because people tend to lock themselves in because of the cold and have less ventilation in the spaces.
The researchers provide additional elements to explain what is happening in Chile, the country with the highest number of vaccinated in Latin America, cannot stop the wave of infections. The epidemiologist Gabriel Cavada, an expert in biostatistics, points to the laggards in the vaccination process: “Nearly 90% of those hospitalized are not immunized,” says the academic from the School of Public Health of the University of Chile, who attributes it to part of the “insurrectional state” through which Chilean society is going through and distrust towards the entire ruling class. In his opinion, “at this point, it would be necessary to generate a certain obligation of the vaccine, even if it seems totalitarian and, for example, condition social aid to immunization.”
It also points to a second element: that the health authority did not correctly transmit to the people that the vaccine does not serve so much to avoid contagion and spread as not to cause moderate and serious pictures of the disease. Cavada says that in Chile there is room for the pandemic to grow and that restrictive measures such as quarantines have not met their objective for a long time. “The one that we started in Santiago from this Saturday will be completely useless,” says the researcher, who would opt for a smaller-scale viral control system.
The academic from the University of Chile agrees with the authorities of the Ministry of Health that the virus has a strong seasonal component, since, as Chile is entering winter, with low temperatures, people crowd inside houses and It is contagious in their own homes. Cavada assures that the new outbreak has no relation to the effectiveness of the Sinovac vaccine, which has been used mostly in the country: “It is one of the best quality and, at least in Chile, it has not reported thrombi. On the other hand, as it is composed of attenuated virus, it has a much higher probability of containing mutations ”. Therefore, he discards the comparisons of countries such as Israel, which vaccinated with Pfizer: “Israel completed its vaccine process when its summer began,” he says. For the expert, the United Kingdom today is experiencing what should happen in Chile in three months, as long as it is possible to vaccinate 80% or 90% of the target population (15,000,000 of the 18,000,000 inhabitants) and exceed “ anti-vaccine inertia, ”says Cavada.
In these 16 months of pandemic, Chile has multiplied the number of critical beds available (from 1,200 to 4,500 approximately), but it cannot continue to increase them, because it does not have enough health personnel, exhausted after so much pressure. The South American country has signed contracts for some 40,000,000 doses that would allow the population of the country to be vaccinated twice, which has not yet entered the highly contagious Delta variant.