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Chile closes capital Santiago once again as vaccines fail to quell frantic cases

A woman walks past graffiti reading “Social Distance” during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Santiago, Chile, June 7, 2021. REUTERS / Ivan Alvarado

On Thursday, Chilean health authorities announced a complete blockade in the capital, Santiago, after some of the worst cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, despite having fully vaccinated half of its population.

The development, which will alert authorities elsewhere discussing how quickly to reopen as vaccination campaigns raise money, comes when the confirmed daily caseload in Chile rose 17% in the last two weeks across the country and 25% in the region of the capital, which includes Santiago and is home to half the country’s population.

Intensive care beds in the capital region already have a capacity of 98%. Jose Luis Espinoza, president of the National Federation of Nursing Associations in Chile (FENASENF), said its members were “on the verge of collapse”.

Chile has one of the highest levels of vaccination in the world. About 75% of its 15 million inhabitants have already received at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 58% are completely inoculated. According to Reuters per capita among major countries, it is the leader in vaccination in America and the fifth highest in the world.

So far, it has used nearly 23 million doses of vaccine – 17.2 million from Sinovac (SVA.O), 4.6 million from Pfizer (PFE.N) / BioNTech (22UAy.DE) and less than 1 million from AstraZeneca< AZN.L> and CanSino’s. (6185.HK)

Vaccines are not 100% effective, medical experts said, and there is a delay in time before they reach their highest effectiveness. Also the driving force of the fierce second wave is the fatigue of blocking and the emergence of more contagious variants.

Of the 7,716 people confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 between Wednesday and Thursday, 73% were not fully vaccinated and 74% were under the age of 49, the health ministry said.

Dr Cesar Cortes, an emergency doctor at the University of Chile Hospital, said people who stayed home last year were already afraid of losing their jobs.

“Last year there was a small circulation and detention measures were more effective because people were afraid to die,” he said. “It’s not happening now.”

Without the vaccines, Chile would be in a much worse position, he said.

“The complex situation we are seeing now would be catastrophic,” he said.

Chile’s health regulator ISP said genomic sequencing of infections between December and June confirmed that the Brazilian variant P1 was the most common in the country and “twice as contagious as the original strain”.

Chile is currently starting to vaccinate teenagers, offering injections to older age groups. Two weeks ago, he introduced green cards to give more freedom to vaccinated people in an attempt to encourage those who are cautious to leave.

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

“About 10% of people, even if vaccinated, will not be protected against serious diseases. These are hundreds of thousands of people who go to intensive care units,” he said. “And when our health care system is strained to the limit, as it is now, that percentage alone is enough to beat them.”

Our standards: Thomson Reuters’ principles of trust.

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