Chile Overtook Italy as Country With the Eighth-Most Cases in the World

Lead Photo: A worker walks while pulling a shopping cart with vegetables at Central Market on May 28, 2020 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images
A worker walks while pulling a shopping cart with vegetables at Central Market on May 28, 2020 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images
Read more
Although Chile adopted some coronavirus safety measures months ago (the AFP notes some began since February), the number of infected people has been rising steadily, reflecting increases across Latin America. The situation became direr in the country over the weekend, after the health ministry revealed a counting methodology that indicates that the number of COVID-19-related deaths could be much higher than previously believed. The number of deaths could be nearly doubled as a result of the new counting approach, which includes likely coronavirus cases that haven’t been fully confirmed. Under that tally, there are now more than 7,000 deaths, according to CNN Español and the AFP, but the numbers appear to still be in question as a result of different criteria and reporting methods. (The New York Times and the Washington Post have recently reported deaths closer to 5,000.)

On Sunday, Chile overtook Italy as the country with the eighth-most cases in the world. A lot of the rise seems to be the result of the country trying to reopen. Many of Chile’s underserved community is unable to stay home and has had to find ways to work in order to make money again. Officials have also been criticized for missteps such as failing to effectively keep up with contact tracing and isolating the sick while sending mixed messages to the public about who the virus could affect and how much capacity hospitals had to treat patients.

The pandemic has roiled leadership, as well. Chile’s health minister Jaime Mañalich stepped down this month after disputes in reporting cases and after many began expressing their extreme frustration with the government’s response to the intensifying crisis. Álvaro Erazo, another former health minister, explained that Chile’s “ability to handle the crisis has been negated by a lackluster communications strategy that saw the government encourage people to go back to normal, all while the curve was soaring upwards.”

Peru has slightly more cases than Chile, and they’re both topped by Brazil in terms of areas that are struggling most with the coronavirus. Still, Peru and Chile especially haven’t been getting the attention countries like Italy and Spain did early on, and they’re still grappling with ways to not only mitigate the spread but also to deal with the grim reality of the dead. The Associated Press reported that funeral parlors have ramped up their casket production and rolled out cheaper, plain box “COVID” caskets to keep up with how rapidly people are dying.

Unfortunately, the virus shows no signs of stopping in Latin America any time soon. Difficult conditions, economic instability, and even government corruption continue to exacerbate the situation and result in devastating outcomes for the region.

Correction, June 23 at 2:58 p.m. ET: This piece has been updated to include the former health minister’s correct name and reflect inconsistencies in Chile’s coronavirus tracking.