Amid green shoots, Chile keeps borders closed but eases capital's lockdowns

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SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chilean authorities announced on Monday that they would extend the closure of the country’s borders for another 30 days as hospitals remain near-full and COVID-19 cases high despite a gradual improvement in recent weeks.

Health Minister Enrique Paris said seven and 14-day averages each showed a 7% decrease in confirmed cases and COVID-19 positivity test rates were down. On Monday, 6,078 new infections were identified, compared to a record high of 9,171 cases on April 9.

“The health situation is showing some signs of improvement. We are seeing changes but that doesn’t mean we can stop fighting,” Paris said.

Chile is running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns, with half of its target population already inoculated with one shot and 38.8% with two.

That has prompted hospital admissions to drop for older age groups who were vaccinated first. But the younger, more active population is now being hospitalized in greater numbers and is proving less enthusiastic about getting vaccinated, according to health officials.

Authorities also announced a gradual easing of lockdowns in the capital Santiago after a month of strict confinement. Seven boroughs, mostly in the city’s more affluent east, will be freed from lockdown during weekdays and schools will be able to reopen provided they comply with strict sanitary measures.

Testing and tracing will be bolstered, with mobile testing units stationed outside malls, metro stations, and restaurants, better tracing following outbreaks in workplaces, and more local inspectors to check on people in quarantine and raid clandestine parties.

Paula Daza, Chile’s top public health official, said gyms and casinos would remain closed.

She urged those being liberated from lockdowns to tread carefully and keep their masks on. “It’s fundamental that everyone plays their part in helping us to keep moving forward,” she said.

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