SANTIAGO – Nationwide ICU occupancy is at 93.5 percent and reported new cases have been averaging about 4,300 in recent days. On Mar. 11, Health Minister Enrique Paris announced that the entire Metropolitan region would return to phase 2 of the Paso a Paso plan. Mayors and other authorities have been questioning the government’s decision-making process amid a new wave of infections.
According to data from the iCovid Chile initiative, the pandemic is still growing; and ICU occupancy is at a critical level in 13 of 16 regions, with coronavirus patients using at least 62 percent of ICU beds in the last three days. For example, in the Antofagasta region, ICU occupancy is at 97 percent, and for most other regions in central Chile, the number is also above 90 percent. The critical threshold is anything over 85 percent.
Meanwhile, the government announced on Mar. 11 that the Metropolitan region would return to the transition stage of the dynamic Paso a Paso (“step by step”) plan, alongside some more stringent measures to contain people movement: the national curfew falls back an hour from 11 to 10 p.m. on Mar. 13, restaurants and small businesses will have to close at 8 p.m., while gyms and casinos will have to shut down entirely under phase 2, even though they were only just allowed to reopen on Feb. 23. Another 14 districts across the country will also go back to quarantine (phase 1) on Mar. 13.
Hit and Miss Strategy
On Mar. 8, health authorities announced that the city of Valparaíso would enter the quarantine stage beginning Mar. 11, which drew criticism from the city’s mayor Jorge Sharp. Sharp called the measure “irrational” and urged the government to rethink its strategy, especially as neighboring city Viña del Mar has a similar active case count (655 to Valparaíso’s 679) but remains in phase 2. During the first coronavirus wave in 2020, both cities entered and exited quarantine together.
Tras anuncio de cuarentena para #Valparaíso @JorgeSharp dice q es irracional q comunas aledañas no sean consideradas en la estrategia “El gobierno de Sebastian Piñera demuestra que no tiene estrategia sanitaria para la región”, dijo @Cooperativa pic.twitter.com/GOAupW5WZO
— Belén Velásquez Neracher (@belenvelasquez) March 8, 2021
Health Minister Enrique Paris defended the government’s decision, but conceded, “I agree that there is a lack of medical evidence” to support lockdown measures. Moreover, the health authority has repetitively argued that this surge is due to people coming back from vacation and going back to work and school. Despite this, people are still entitled to get a vacation permit until Mar. 31. Medical College president Izkia Siches told Radio Duna that decision-making in other regions has been slow, despite reports by the entity showing that some areas didn’t impose capacity limits, even in districts under phase 2.
Data by iCovid Chile also suggests the R number is still over or close to 1 in many regions, meaning that coronavirus is still spreading fast. The only region with a “green light” R number is the Tarapacá region, with a rate of 0.63. The rest of the country remains with an orange or red light.
To find out the effective R number for different regions across the country, see the interactive map below:
Francisco is finishing his degree in Journalism at Universidad Finis Terrae in Santiago.