Coronavirus in Chile NATIONAL

No Holiday Permits for Quarantined Cities After Mayors Complain

aSANTIAGO — The government recently announced its Covid-19 plan for this year’s Fiestas Patrias that included a six-hour permit to visit family and celebrate the festivities. Numerous Mayors complained that this was a centralist measure that would spark new outbreaks of cases. In response, on Sept. 6, the government amended the plan to provide that the permit would only be available for districts that were already in the reopening plan’s Phase II or higher.

A new dispute between mayors and the central government regarding the latter’s recently-announced rules for Chile’s upcoming national holidays, Fiestas Patrias, highlights the friction that often evolves between local authorities and the central government. In this particular instance, the central government was left with no other option but to amend its initial rules.

September is a month of celebration among Chileans. Every year in the middle of September they commemorate the country’s first cabinet meeting that later led to the country’s independence. They celebrate it with parties called “Fondas,” where typical food and refreshments are offered.

Since this month is so important — the 18th and 19th are national holidays and schools take the entire week off — the government announced a plan called “Fondéate en tu casa” (“Celebrate fondas at home”). The plan allows gatherings of five people in closed spaces, and 10 in open spaces during the festivity days.

Initially, Minister of Health Enrique Paris said that Sept. 17-20 people would be allowed to request a special permit to go out for six hours and celebrate with their families. This included every city and district, no matter where the district was on the government’s phased reopening plan.

Read more:

Covid-19 Kills the Party: Fiestas Patrias During the Pandemic

“A truly criminal centralism”

As soon as the announcement was made, several regional authorities criticized it, and, in response, the government reversed its decision as to districts still in quarantine.

The regional authorities complained that centralism was guiding the government’s proposal. They acknowledged that the Metropolitan Region had seen a decrease in Covid-19 cases, but were concerned that city-specific details had not been considered in the Fiestas Patrias permit plan.

Among the critics was Roberto Jacob, the mayor of La Serena, a district that remains in Phase I (quarantine) of the reopening plan. He said that the special permit would be a major setback for the people. “Think about the healthcare workers, who have made great efforts and are tired … if this increases the infections, people will go to the hospitals that are already collapsed.”

Jacob, along with Claudio Rentería, mayor of Ovalle, and Marcelo Pereira, mayor of Coquimbo, signed a petition that the government forbid the special permit to those in cities that remain in quarantine. 

Álvaro Ortiz, the mayor of Concepción, had stronger words; he told CNN Chile that the plan was of “a truly criminal centralism.” He said that a permit like this would mean “that these people will have to confine themselves for longer, and will not be able to open their businesses because of the outbreak this will generate.” After the criticism and requests from regional authorities, Paris announced on Sept. 6 that the people from districts that are in Phase I during Fiestas Patrias will not be allowed to ask for a special permit.

“This is a government that listens and attends to what the mayors and authorities have told us. In conversation between the Ministry of Health and the President of the Republic, we have determined that this permit … will exclude cities in quarantine,” explained the government’s spokesperson, Jaime Bellolio, in a press conference.

Claudio Radonich, mayor of Punta Arenas, the city with the most active cases in the country, thanked the government for listening to the many requests regional authorities had made: “it is essential not to relax and not to generate confusion,” he cautioned through Twitter.

As of Sept. 8, there are 46 cities in the country that remain in Phase I.

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