In early April Chile made headlines for its “success” in handling Covid-19 in the country. Journalists and experts praised the small Latin American nation for having controlled the pandemic. The Chilean Government also celebrated a win, which soon turned sour. As Chile reopened in April, lifting some lockdown restrictions, the pandemic returned, hitting the country harder than ever. From April until August, many parts of Chile remained in strict lockdowns as the country had some of the worst covid cases per capita in the world. Despite its small population of 18 million, Chile managed to become one of the countries with most covid cases.
Since it’s dark winter, dealing with one of the worst outbreaks in the world, Chile has been able to keep cases low, for the most part. The country had clearly learned from its previous mistakes, the most notable one being the sudden reopening of neighborhoods that had been quarantined. In August, neighborhoods in the capital city, Santiago, slowly began to open. The government outlined a gradual strategy to reopen called “Paso a Paso”. The strategy contains 5 different stages, ranging from quarantine to initial opening. According to the health situation of each area, neighborhoods may be moved within the stages, each with specific restrictions and obligations. In other words, the advance or retreat from one stage to another is subject to epidemiological indicators, health care system and traceability.
As normalcy returned to Santiago, it became clear to citizens that it would be an altered normalcy. Entering shopping malls, people are greeted with large television screens that record each person’s temperature. Before entering stores, people get their temperature taken by the staff. In restaurants, each table has their own hand sanitizer bottle. Masks are required when walking the street and in establishments.
I arrived in Chile in March 2020 and only left in August, just as my neighborhood was reopening. I lived through the country’s short-lived success and saw the country succumb to covid. Most of those months were spent in a strict quarantine, where people were not allowed to go outside other than for essential things. However, I returned briefly in December and saw a country that had learned from its previous mistakes.
Having come from Spain, I was in awe by the way shopping malls were functioning in Chile. In Madrid, I could not recall having my temperature taken before walking into a store. A Starbucks nearby only allowed 3 customers at a time, and if it was full, others would patiently wait in a socially distanced line outside the store. Once one customer left, another came in taking their temperature and applying hand sanitizer. Outdoor seating was the only allowed at the time. Meanwhile, in Spain I had seen Starbucks that were at full capacity both indoors and out.
While cases in Chile have gone up in recent months, it has not been at a rapid pace. As cases in the country grow, Chile has been doing more and more testing, breaking daily records consistently.
Through the government website, daily statistics are published in a clear and transparent way. The page provides the number of daily cases and statistics on hospitalizations, testing, symptoms, and deaths. Everyday the website is updated in the late morning. Additionally, these same statistics are communicated on television followed by questions from reporters.
Despite the new cases, Chile has begun administering its first doses of the vaccine, signaling the beginning of the end for the country. Chile made headlines for securing double the doses needed to vaccinate its 18 million population. The country has also become an example for its diversifying vaccine sources having made deals with Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, and seeking new deals with Russia’s Sputnik 5 and China’s Sinovac.
The Chilean government has also created the “Yo Me Vacuno” website, which outlines the national vaccination plan. In addition to providing information on the vaccines themselves, the website has also published the calendar for vaccination. The government first prioritized front line workers, which began getting vaccinated in late December. Afterwards, the country began its ambitious mass vaccination campaign which began on February 3rd. On it’s first day 168,555 people were vaccinated and on the next 170,541 Chileans received the vaccine. So far, Chile has 556,754 people vaccinated.
Chile has had over 750,000 cases of Covid-19. In a matter of days, there will be more Chileans vaccinated than Chileans who have gotten covid.
Since Chile launched it’s vaccination campaign, it has administered more doses per 100 people than Spain, Bahrain, and Germany. For a small country of 18 million, this rapid pace of vaccination could yield similar results to Israel, another small nation that quickly vaccinated it’s population.
Ultimately what Chile has taught us is that while there may not be a perfect strategy for many countries deeply affected by the pandemic, there are ways to keep the situation at bay. Since Chile emerged from it’s disastrous handling of Covid-19 in June-July, it has had several ups and downs. Yet, it has seemed to avert another dangerous peak. Beyond that, the future for Chile so far looks bright with their vaccine negotiations and rollout.