Chile Health Minister Resigns as Covid-19 Deaths Hit Record
A pedestrian wearing a protective mask crosses a nearly empty Independencia Avenue in Santiago, Chile. (Photographer: Cristobal Olivares/Bloomberg)

Chile Health Minister Resigns as Covid-19 Deaths Hit Record

(Bloomberg) --

Chile’s health minister, who advocated a limited-lockdown policy that the government later abandoned, resigned Saturday as daily coronavirus deaths reached a record.

Jaime Manalich had also backed a failed proposal to introduce immunity cards for recovered Covid-19 patients. He quit with immediate effect and was replaced by Enrique Paris, the former head of the Medical College.

The Health Ministry reported 231 new virus-related deaths on Saturday and 6,509 new cases. That brought total cases to 167,355, more than France. The number of deaths increased to 3,101.

Manalich promoted Chile’s policy of “dynamic lockdown,” which restricted movement in specific neighborhoods rather than entire cities. But when cases spiraled in May, the government put all of Santiago, the capital, under lockdown. Chile has more coronavirus cases per capita than any country except Qatar and Bahrain, though its death rate is not among the highest.

“The first mission of Minister Paris will be to fight the coronavirus, but he also has the job of leading a deep reform of the public and private health system,” President Sebastian Pinera said.

Immunity Passports

It’s an ignominious end to Manalich’s second stint in the post. He also served as health minister during Pinera’s first term in government from 2010 to 2014.

It wasn’t just the dynamic lockdowns that created controversy. He also backtracked on the immunity pass project following warnings it could fuel discrimination and more infections.

“It has been brought to our attention that the cards could trigger a severe problem of discrimination,” Manalich said at the time. They would give a minority of people privileges when being hired, re-hired or simply entering public buildings, he said.

For many others, the problem was more scientific than social. The United Nations and the World Health Organization have questioned how long people remain immune after recovering from the disease, and warned the cards could undermine quarantine efforts.

Different Numbers

Manalich’s parting shot was the Health Ministry’s revelation to journalists that it sends a different death toll to the WHO than it reports at its daily press conferences in Chile.

While the report to the WHO includes people who died with Covid-19 symptoms without taking a coronavirus test, the figures given in Chile only include deaths of patients who tested positive. Including those possible or probable cases would lift Chile’s death toll to more than 5,000.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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