BOGOTA, Colombia

Chile is leading the way in the world with one of the fastest vaccination campaigns, yet a surge in COVID-19 cases has put the nation’s health service on the brink of collapse.

The rate of immunization in Chile has far outpaced its neighbors in Latin America, and globally, it is just behind Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the UK.

The Latin American nation, which has a population of over 19 million, has secured more than 35 million vaccination doses for 2021 to the extent that experts say the country could be one of the first in the world to achieve herd immunity. Nearly 40% of Chileans have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

However, a second wave of the virus is ripping through the country, which has one of the highest COVID-19 mortality rates in Latin America. Daily coronavirus infections show record figures, exceeding 7,000 cases per day in the last week. To date, Chile has more than 23,000 deaths and nearly one million cases.

The increase in COVID-19 infections has triggered a new series of strict lockdown measures. More than 80% of the country’s population is not allowed to leave their homes even to buy groceries or pharmacy supplies. Each person is allowed two short-term permits to leave the house only to buy essentials.

President Sebastian Pinera even asked Congress to postpone municipal and regional elections that were scheduled to be held on April 10 and 11 due to a rise in coronavirus cases.

Experts say mass vaccination began when there was a high level of contagion, a consequence of increasingly lax containment measures. The worrying upward trend led the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn that vaccination is not a substitute for infection prevention measures.

“After the distribution of vaccines, there are those who fail to comply with measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, ventilation or avoidance of crowded places, and all this must continue along with vaccination,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead.​​​​​​​

For now, and during the vacation season in Chile, the government has tightened restrictions for travelers. People who enter the country from March 31 will now have to stay in a hotel for five days at their own expense before completing five more days of quarantine.

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