SANTIAGO – As the Metropolitan Region prepares for a possible citywide quarantine to safeguard the physical health of residents, that quarantine only raises an additional fear for many residents: the financial effects of all these anti-coronavirus measures. Congress is working to minimize these effects, but it faces serious challenges. It remains to be seen what it will do.
On Mar. 18, President Sebastián Piñera declared a State of Catastrophe due to the coronavirus pandemic. This means that Congress has to close and that residents can no longer freely move about the country.
Later in the day, the Minister of Health also announced the closure of all shopping malls in the country, as a further precaution against the spread of the virus. This is a relief to some who feel they are putting their lives at risk going to work at the malls (and their jobs at risk if they don’t go while the malls are open), but it is also a worrisome disruption to many others who can ill-afford to forego work and paycheck. Among other things, it is unclear how long the malls will be closed and the extent to which employees will continue to receive paychecks—not to mention what happens to related small businesses that operate without employees and on thin margins.
With the clock ticking, Congress has started debating potential measures to try to protect those vulnerable to the financial hardships that come with the coronavirus.
The first issue being debated is a bill that focuses on Congress itself, i.e., one that would give Congress the ability to continue to work through a quarantine, albeit with appropriate distancing, as some congresspersons are already quarantined as a preventive measure or because of their previous exposure to the virus.
Congress is also pursuing many other issues, including the following:
- Representative Camila Vallejo floated a bill that would prohibit companies from firing their employees for up to four months and would prevent them from cutting their paychecks.
- Representative Pamela Jiles petitioned the government to follow France’s lead and not charge residents for access to gas, electricity, and water.
- Senator Francisco Chahuán petitioned the Ministry of Economy to reprogram loan payments in order to ease the financial burden on individuals and small businesses.
- Another bill called for postponing the April Plebiscite until September.
As of this writing, all of these items remain the subject of debate.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.