Chile Shuts Its Borders as Deadly Covid Wave Smashes Records

Chile will close its borders for the month of April in a dramatic escalation of the country’s fight against its worst coronavirus outbreak to date.

Chilean citizens and foreign residents will be forbidden from entering or leaving the country starting April 5, Deputy Interior Minister Katherine Martorell told reporters on Thursday. All truck drivers will be required to present a negative PCR test carried out in the 72 hours before entering the country.

At the same press conference, Health Ministry officials reported a daily record of 7,830 infections, an all-time high for occupied hospital beds and a nationwide positivity rate of 11%. Chile also extended a nightly curfew and restricted retail activity to essential goods such as food and medicine.

Chile Shuts Its Borders as Deadly Covid Wave Smashes Records

The measures highlight the struggles Chile faces even as it carries out one of the world’s fastest Covid vaccination drives. President Sebastian Pinera’s administration has placed 85% of the population under strict quarantine, and is seeking to delay April’s elections for the Constitutional Assembly. Even so, the central bank expects restrictions to have a milder impact than last year.

“These are difficult times, and the government has always prioritized people’s health,” Martorell said. “We need everyone to make an effort.”

Read more: Chile Seeks Delay of April Elections on Worst Virus Surge

Health Minister Enrique Paris is contending with increased scrutiny over his handling of the pandemic. Critics say the government should have maintained limits on domestic travel during the southern hemisphere summer that ended in March, and that it was too quick to open establishments like schools.

At the same time, there is growing alarm over the local spread of more contagious virus variants from the U.K. and Brazil. Many have questioned why Chile’s airports remained open even as authorities expanded domestic quarantines.

Stepping up border restrictions may disrupt some industries such as mining by delaying equipment replacement. The South American nation is the world’s top exporter of copper.

Still, central bank President Mario Marcel said on Thursday that renewed lockdowns will have less of an effect on the economy than last year, pointing out that many companies have already adapted to the pandemic. The monetary authority expects Chile’s gross domestic product to grow between 6% and 7% this year.

Meanwhile, over 35% of citizens have already received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. The country also signed an agreement with CanSino Biologics Inc. for 1.8 million Covid vaccine doses that will start to arrive in May, the government’s Vice Minister of Trade Rodrigo Yanez said in an interview this week.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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