Chile’s pandemic: Appreciations from quarantine

Por Hno. Jesús Bayo Mayor

Hno. Jesús Bayo

In the eight months I have been in Chile since my return from Cuba, I have had the experience of seeing some social and economic viruses afflict this country that are worsening with the Coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, before I tell how covid-19 havoc is affecting in Chile, I will make a previous presentation of social movements.

The virulence of the social movement in Chile (October 2019-March 2020)

I returned to Santiago de Chile from Havana on October 8, 2019. By the same time of spring in these southern latitudes of the world, I had first come to these beautiful lands forty years ago, in 1979. He was now returning after thirteen years of stay in Cuba. The first days were admired to see the economic progress and improvements in the urban infrastructure of this great capital of Chile, with the mountain range always vigilant as custody and guardian. It seemed to me that this city of Santiago was similar to the large urban metropolises of developed countries.

In addition, as something new that was not seen twenty years ago, I was impressed by the number of immigrants I found in Santiago de Chile, from the most diverse Latin American countries, especially Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Cuba… It was evident to me, after several years without residing in Chile, that many labor reinforcements had arrived in this country in search of better living conditions. Immigrants reportedly contributed to Chile’s economic progress as a labor force, while the country’s financial boom contributed to the welfare pay of immigrants and their families.

But my first impressions of admiration and, at the same time, of some strangeness lasted only ten days. On October 18, 2019, a strong and violent social movement broke out in the main cities of the country, promoted by many young people and by many other people and associations that demand greater social equity and the urgent improvement for all in the systems of social security, health, education, salaries and other ethnic, feminist claims, etc. Suddenly, with great destruction and violence, a number of causes that caused social unrest were expressed. Perhaps the ills of the present had remote roots, as one of the slogans of the protests said: “Complaints are not for 30 pesos without for 30 years.” (The 30 pesos alluded to claims for the price increase on public transport, and the 30 years referred to the period since democracy returned.)

Apparently, the house of Chile was not as good nor was it as beautiful as could be seen on the facade. The social movement was very violent for the first few days, but then it remained with the snout on, until it was hidden under the ashes, which does not mean it is extinct, with the arrival of the summer holidays and with the coronavirus pandemic in early March.

The social movement affected the Chilean economy because many productive activities declined or were abolished, including tourism and several international events that had been scheduled to take place at the end of the year. The most affected by this crisis were the most vulnerable people, including immigrants. In the holidays, during the months of January and February, with the work and school break, production and services were stopped. Domestic and external tourism also declined and revenues for this concept declined. During the holidays, demonstrations and riots were somewhat diluted, although there were always latent pockets.

At the start of March, the country seemed to return to normal with the return to school and the end of the holiday, but it did not. The virulence of the social movement in Chile was increased with another virus that affects the whole world today and puts health systems and economic and social models in check in many countries.

How is this pandemic being lived in Chile? What impact has it had on Chile’s health and economy? How will the health and economic crisis affect the social movement? I will then express my perception and opinion on it.

The coronavirus pandemic

a) Late start of contagions in Chile

As Chile is such a southern country, it was thought that the virus would not come here. During the months of January and February, when the pandemic was noticed in Europe and China, no one imagined that it would get here. But today’s human mobility and globalization have turned the world into one village. Chilean tourists and students who were in China and Europe returned, and some of them arrived infected.

Just started the school year, on March 3, the first case of Covid-19 in Chile was confirmed: he was a doctor who had traveled to Southeast Asia. His wife was the second case. During the first fortnight of March, other isolated cases were detected. On 16 March, the President of the Republic announced the closure of all borders as of March 18, but the government has facilitated the repatriation of more than sixty thousand Chileans who were stranded abroad. At the same time, it has facilitated the departure of foreigners who were not resident in Chile; others, particularly migrants, are still not able to travel to their own countries. It is not an easy mission because of the many diplomatic or customs requirements and the transport problems.

b) State of national catastrophe

On March 18, President Piñera announced a “state of national catastrophe” for ninety days, and sixteen Heads of National Defense were assigned. Since that day, the Ministry of Health reports daily cases of contagion and death.

As of March 22, there were 632 contagions and one death caused by Covid-19.

On 25 March, 1,142 contagions were reported. “Total quarantine” is then established in several municipalities of the capital, which would then extend to other communes and provinces. In person or virtually, the police issue exit permits when necessary, during restricted hours during the day.

On 8 April, the use of masks on public transport, markets and other public places became mandatory, as well as the requirement to maintain a minimum separation of one meter between people. Sanitary cords are installed to restrict the movement of people from one city to another.

A total of 11,812 infected and 168 deaths are reported on 23 April. Quarantine is expanded in new municipalities in the capital and in other cities of the country with a significant number of contagions.

On 1 May, two months after the start of the pandemic in Chile, the number of infected rose to 17,008 and the total number of people who died was 234.

On 7 May, the number of contagions amounted to 24,581, with 285 dead in total.

The spread and death curve continued to rise during May and June.

On 1 June it amounted to 105,000 contagions and 1,200 deaths.

Today, June 15, at the time of writing, there are 180,000 contagions and 3,362 deaths.

c) Consequences of the pandemic

Chile’s health system has been foresighted and, so far, has not been collapsed in any hospital. The work of medical staff has increased, and some operations and treatments of specialties have been postponed.

The police control and national security system is working well with the support of the armed forces.

Face-to-face classes in schools and universities are suspended, but an online class system was implemented through which classes are held virtually. Teachers and students can work from their own homes. Students and teachers do their teaching-learning work, but differently. This experience is likely to be a precedent for drastic changes to the formal school system in the future.

Some work is also done online from home. However, a good part of the work and productive activity has been affected. This brings with it the increase in cesanty, poverty and economic stagnation in the country. There is talk of a global economic crisis and recession, which is lived differently in each place. In the case of Chile, I believe that the recession is very painful because its economic growth has been steady for several years, and now most activities are stagnant or paralyzed.

The economic crisis will exacerbate social and political problems. I dare not predict or predict what might happen when the pandemic is over. There are many outstanding issues and various social demands. Cessantry and production will certainly increase in all respects. That is why poverty will also increase.

How will the problems be solved? What solutions will be implemented when this health pandemic is removed and the wounds of the economic and social crisis appear? I don’t know. Maybe at the end of the year we can be more clear. In the meantime, we’re still home guarding quarantine.


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