Chile closes borders for April as Covid cases surge despite vaccine rollout success

6 April 2021, 10:39 | Updated: 6 April 2021, 21:39

All of Chile's borders have been closed for the month of April in a bid to curb infections.
All of Chile's borders have been closed for the month of April in a bid to curb infections. Picture: Getty

By Joe Cook

Chile has closed all of its borders for the whole of April as Covid cases surge in the South American country despite a widely praised vaccine rollout.

On Monday, the borders were closed to both Chilean citizens and foreign nationals, who are not permitted to enter or leave the country for at least the rest of April.

There are a very limited number of exemptions, with truck drivers able to enter the country if they present a negative PCR test.

"We urgently need to make an additional effort, because we are in a very critical moment of the pandemic," government spokesman Jaime Bellolio said.

Over the weekend 80 percent of the country, including the capital Santiago, was also put under a lockdown that prevented them leaving the house, even for groceries.

Watch: Nick Ferrari scrutinises Nadhim Zahawi over 'unfair' travel restrictions as thousands enter UK

Read more: 'Traffic light' system for holidays abroad unveiled - but 'don't book this summer'

A soldier and a few passengers walk inside the deserted Santiago airport on Monday.
A soldier and a few passengers walk inside the deserted Santiago airport on Monday. Picture: PA

During the week each person is given two permits allowing them to go outside to buy essentials or exercise outdoors between 7am and 8.30am. A 9pm to 5am curfew is also in place

The moves follow a rise in infections and deaths, with the Chile's intensive care units at over 95 percent capacity.

In the latest figures, 7,307 infections were reported on Sunday, with the death toll rising by 120 in 24 hours.

Read more: SAGE scientists warn of third Covid wave if lockdown eased as planned in May and June

Read more: Border Force staff 'demoralised' as thousands of tourists enter UK each day

Police check citizens' outdoor permits in Santiago, Chile.
Police check citizens' outdoor permits in Santiago, Chile. Picture: PA

Over 9 million of Chile's 19 million population have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, with around one in four fully inoculated with two doses. Most have been given the Chinese Sinovac jab.

But public health experts have warned the success of the vaccination programme may have given people a false sense of security.

On Monday, Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street press conference that Chile was "quite a good corrective" for the "assumption that you vaccinate lots of people and the problem [of covid] goes away".

Read more: PM faces growing criticism after backing 'vaccine passports' for mass events

Chile's vaccination program has been widely praised, but the country is still experiencing another wave of infections.
Chile's vaccination program has been widely praised, but the country is still experiencing another wave of infections. Picture: PA

"Is this due to vaccines used? Is this due to the timing of when things have actually been rolled out? Is it due to particular interactions with other variants? We don't yet know," he added.

"We absolutely need to learn from those countries that are ahead of us or alongside us in terms of vaccine rollout."

So far the UK government has pushed back on a full closure of the borders, arguing that the UK border system is "one of the most stringent" in the world.

Read more: Travel chiefs call for clarity over when foreign trips can resume

Elsewhere, Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi was questioned on the issue of travel restrictions by LBC's Nick Ferrari, after Border Force figures revealed 8,000 tourists are entering the country each day, despite Brits being banned from taking holidays abroad.

"If people come here they have to have a pre-departure test, they've got to have two more tests when they're in this country, they've got to quarantine if they're British residents coming from the red list countries," Mr Zahawi told LBC.

"We've got one of the most stringent border controls related to the virus."

The minister was pressed on how this could be the case if one visa was granted to a tourist from Peru who said on their application form that the reason for their trip to the UK was to “visit Big Ben”.

Mr Zahawi responded that enforcement has been "pretty good" but "people sometimes do slip through", adding that the "stringent" border system is reviewed and updated "all the time."