SANTIAGO (REUTERS) – Chile broke its single day record for new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday (March 20), health officials said, leaving hospitals on the verge of collapse even as the South American nation races on with a mass vaccination programme.
Cases have been ticking up for weeks following the end of the southern hemisphere summer holiday, but soared to 7,084, above the previous high of 6,938 last June, the data shows.
The fast rising caseload has filled critical care wards north to south, leaving Chile with just 198 beds available for new patients.
All of the capital Santiago, the economic engine, is in strict lockdown this weekend.
Chile, a comparatively small but wealthy Andean nation, is at the forefront of a global inoculation drive on a per capita basis.
It ranks third globally, behind Israel and the United Arab Emirates, for most doses administered per population, according to a Reuters tabulation.
Officials have pledged to vaccinate the entire target population, 15 million people, during the first half of 2021.
But officials say the holiday infections, the arrival of more contagious variants of the virus and a relaxation of sanitary measures amid the successful vaccination programme have prompted a vicious second wave.
The positivity rate of PCR tests nationwide nonetheless remains substantially below last year’s peak as the country has more than tripled the number of daily tests it administers.
Authorities say they hope Chileans will see some relief and reduced caseloads in April as vaccination ploughs ahead.
Chile was the first in South America to begin vaccinating its citizens, with an early shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec 24.
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