SANTIAGO – Covid-19 takes another victim: Chile’s September holidays. Even though many districts and cities have already suspended Fiestas Patrias celebrations, the government has now formally confirmed that big celebrations will be forbidden and that fondas will not be allowed to open their doors. This is just one more way in which the pandemic is redefining 2020.
The image of parks filled with people dancing the cueca (Chile’s national dance) and food stalls selling the so-loved sopaipillas will remain just that this year: an image, not a reality.
On Sept. 2, with over 400,000 Covid-19 confirmed cases and approximately 11,000 deaths attributed to the virus, the Health Ministry officially canceled most of the celebrations that take place every year to commemorate the creation of the first national governing body.
Sept. 18, 19, and 20 are usually one big party that runs the length of the country, and this is ordinarily when the fondas, the primary places where people gather to celebrate the holidays, open their doors to thousands of people. The newly-announced restrictions, optimistically entitled, “Fondéate en Casa” (“Fonda at Home”) forbid gatherings of more than 10 people in outdoor events and limit the number to five in the case of closed spaces. “We want it to be a family activity, so we will make an exception to allow a small number of people to gather,” said Health Minister Enrique Paris during Wednesday’s Covid-19 weekly report.
Crime Prevention Undersecretary Katherine Martorell also layered on a prohibition against travel across the country, as many people usually venture out to the coast on these dates.
The Ministry of Health made clear that quarantines will not be lifted, and that, instead, special permissions will be available through Comisaría Virtual. These documents will allow people to circulate from one district to another and will have a six-hour limit.
On Aug. 13, Paris also announced that curfew will fall two hours earlier, from 11 p.m. to 9 p.m., during the holidays. Interior Minister Víctor Pérez further reiterated this to Radio Cooperativa and added that the president will extend the State of Catastrophe through Sept. 25. “We all know how much we Chileans like to celebrate Fiestas Patrias, we like to go out and this could create difficulties in a pandemic.”
Health Workers’ Warn Against Easing Restrictions
“In Chile we are in a phase of collective transition, with a high contagion risk when we go out, [and] move from one place to another or meet someone,” said María Paz Bertoglia, president of the Epidemiology Chilean Society to Radio BioBio. She warned that the flexibility of these measures is a mistake that could put people in danger.
Dr. Christian García, a public health expert, further warned that the government announcement “goes against any epidemiological logic.” He echoed Bertoglia’s words and said Chile still has too many cases and very poor traceability. García called on people to use this holiday as a “moment to reflect and to mourn our dead, more than 15,000.”
“If we get infected or die during these Fiestas Patrias, we will forever regret the worst holidays of our lives,” the president of the Bío Bío Region Medical College, Germán Acuña, scolded on Twitter. He asked the government to “close the doors to gatherings and to maintain the spirit of quarantines.”
Paris responded to the criticism and said his ministry would closely supervise the implementation of the measures and revise them if people are engaging in risky behavior. He added that he had received calls from local authorities in regions with higher contagion rates, and that the ministry would consider whether to alter the overall plan for those specific areas.
Arturo Zúñiga, Undersecretary of Health Care Networks, explained people should be responsible if they decide to gather. He told Radio BioBio that social distance has to be maintained and extra measures should be taken, “things as simple as tagging the cutlery and glasses you will use.” However, he emphasized that it was preferable to avoid gatherings altogether.
DR. GERMÁN ACUÑA: "Pido al gobierno que no abra puertas para reuniones…y que mantengamos el espíritu de las cuarentenas. Si en estas Fiestas Patrias nos infectamos o nos morimos vamos a lamentar para siempre el peor 18 de nuestras vidas". @colmedchile @ministeriosalud pic.twitter.com/0PDUTNmuo1
— ColmedConcepcion (@Colmed_Conce) September 2, 2020
An Expected Announcement
Districts all over the country had already predicted that the health circumstances would not allow the celebrations to take place. “We will not have fondas and games in Alejo Barrios this 18th, we think it is the responsible decision,” said the mayor of Valparaíso, Jorge Sharp, two weeks before the Health Ministry’s announcement, regarding one of the most attended places in the district during these holidays.
On Aug. 18, Concepción Mayor Álvaro Ortiz also confirmed the suspension of the traditional celebrations the municipality usually organizes for Fiestas Patrias. The fondas of the district’s famous Bicentenario Park gathered more than 100,000 last year.
Santiago Mayor Felipe Alessandri was steps ahead of everyone. On Jun. 22, he agreed with the “fonderos” – the fondas’ owners and organizers – who usually install their businesses in O’Higgins Park. “We must have a sense of responsibility with the population, and the conditions are not in place to hold a massive event that brings together approximately 90,000 people,” he said in his announcement to cancel the festivities.
Fonderos Struggling Without Fiestas Patrias
The suspension of Fiestas Patrias is especially hard for the fonderos, as many of them depend on the profits earned during these holidays for several months. “I think it is the right thing to do. In the current circumstances, it is impossible to have a fonda,” Berta Brito, owner of the famous fonda La Grandiosa Bertita, told 24 Horas. She has operated during the holidays 62 years and the only other time she was not able to carry out the celebrations was in 1973, the year of Pinochet’s military coup.
“It hurts my soul not to open my fonda,” said fondero Zacarías Alarcón to La Tercera, who was already struggling financially from the October social protests. Like many in the food industry, Alarcón’s business is having trouble overcoming the debts that the pandemic has brought. “Behind me, there are a lot of people. I am worried about my waiters, the cooks, the suppliers who bring my ingredients. All of these people are not being allowed to earn money.”
Various restaurants and entertainment businesses have started to prepare a “different” Fiestas Patrias. Delivery services of Chilean traditional food, online comedy shows, and virtual parties are some of the options people will have on these unusual national holidays.
María José Hepp is currently finishing her Journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica. Living- hearing- and telling stories is her passion. Main interests are international relations, culture, and human rights.