Chile places 70 percent of its population under quarantine

Police forces enforce quarantine rules in Chile. Photo: Andrés Díaz/FP
Police forces enforce quarantine rules in Chile. Photo: Andrés Díaz/FP

No country in Latin America has managed to vaccinate its population as efficiently as Chile. And yet, the country faces one of its most challenging moments of the pandemic. Over 95 percent of intensive care beds are filled, and the country’s seven-day rolling average of new daily coronavirus cases has topped the 6,200 mark — the highest since June 12, 2020.

Regions home to 70 percent of the Chilean population — including capital Santiago — will return to a two-week quarantine starting on Saturday morning. This is an additional measure by the government, which had already enhanced restrictions in 24 communes on March 22.

Even the April 10-11 elections are in jeopardy. Chileans are scheduled to select their representatives to form part of a new Constituent Assembly, but there is an increasing push to postpone Election Day. There is some concern about pushing the vote back, however, as the presidential election is scheduled for November 2021. 

The latest lockdowns enhance economic uncertainty in Chile, and lawmakers are debating on whether to allow citizens to withdraw money from their individual pension accounts. Two previous rounds of withdrawals have been allowed — and some 3 million citizens completely emptied their retirement funds.

Though millions of Chileans need money in their hands now, a third withdrawal program could leave 40 percent of workers with empty retirement accounts. Instead of avoiding a poverty crisis, the move would only postpone it.

President Sebastián Piñera, who opposes the withdrawal, says it would “only benefit the rich, as the poor have nothing left [in their accounts].” If Congress goes ahead with the move, the government plans to take the matter to the Supreme Court, though the measure is supported by three-quarters of voters.

The government announced a USD 6-billion bump to the coronavirus emergency fund this week.