Chile tightens lockdowns as coronavirus cases surpass 200,000

New measures include increased policing, and penalties of up to 5 years in prison for violating curfew or quarantine.

Chile coronavirus
A soldier standing guard while another soldier in a hazmat suit applies disinfectant, during a food delivery in a socially vulnerable community in Maipu area Santiago, Chile [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

The Chilean government on Wednesday announced a tightening of lockdowns and “maximum” movement restrictions in its capital Santiago as the country’s confirmed coronavirus caseload exceeded 200,000.

The total number of coronavirus cases was 220,628 cases, the health ministry said in a briefing, after officials said yesterday they had discovered 31,412 confirmed cases that had not been added to the tally previously, and announced 4,757 freshly-confirmed cases overnight.

In a joint briefing by the health, interior and defence ministries, the government said residents of Santiago would be granted permission to leave their homes just twice a week – instead of the five times – amid concerns that lockdowns of up to three months in some parts of the capital had not succeeded in stopping the spread of the virus.

The new measures include a country-wide increase in policing, as well as penalties of up to five years in prison for violators of the quarantine or curfew.

On Tuesday, health officials said a rash of accounting glitches in Chile led to the omission of more than 31,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, or nearly one-sixth of the country’s total so far.

The cases, discovered during a review of the health ministry’s databases, stemmed back to mid-March, when the outbreak began in Chile, authorities said.

“We have detected that there is a significant number of people who have not been notified or whose status has not been processed and continues to be ‘pending’,” Dr Rafael Araos, a member of an expert committee advising the government, told reporters in a briefing.

“This group of unreported cases … have positive PCR (exams) and thus constitute confirmed cases,” he said.

Chile coronavirus
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, new Health Minister Oscar Enrique Paris and former Health Minister Jaime Manalich attending the cabinet reshuffle at the government house in Santiago, Chile [Sebastian Rodriguez/Chile Presidency handout via Reuters] 

The accounting confusion comes as cases are soaring in the South American nation, averaging more than 5,000 daily. 

As the pandemic has worsened in Chile, health ministry statistics have come under increasing scrutiny.

Last week, a controversy about the reporting of coronavirus-related deaths led President Sebastian Pinera to replace Health Minister Jaime Manalich, a close friend and confidant.

Manalich, who had overseen Chile’s response to the outbreak until now, won praise for an aggressive campaign to keep hospitals supplied with ventilators and protective equipment but was criticised for successive criteria changes for recording deaths and cases.

South America has become the new epicentre of the global coronavirus outbreak, with Chile, Peru and Brazil particularly hard hit.

Chile on Monday extended a state of catastrophe in place since mid-March for an additional 90 days.

The decision gives the government extraordinary powers to restrict freedom of movement and assure food supply and basic services.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies