Chileans urged to be ‘prudent’ during independence day celebrations

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Santiago
A bird flies over the venue used to announce a protocol for religious services as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Santiago, Chile September 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

September 16, 2020

By Fabian Cambero

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s health minister has urged Chileans to celebrate the country’s independence day holiday on Friday “prudently” amid fears that a special permit allowing people to hold and attend family gatherings could result in a spike in coronavirus cases.

The day is normally marked by exuberant communal fairs to which Chileans flock in large numbers to watch horseback displays and traditional dancing, while consuming large quantities of barbecued beef, stuffed ’empanada’ pastries, and alcohol.

This year, as Chile seeks to maintain an upper hand over the virus, the authorities have canceled the fairs.

But Chileans can apply for a special ‘party at home’ permit from police that allows a household to host an additional five people for up to six hours. The permit will only be granted to people in communities out of full lockdown.

Health Minister Enrique Paris said Chileans had earned some enjoyment after months of lockdown but urged them not to throw away the gains against the coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Chile recorded the lowest number of deaths in 90 days. Overall, it has had over 12,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

“Let’s be careful and responsible, let’s comply with the rules, let’s beat the virus,” said Paris. “Just as our forefathers won freedom for Chile and gave us that freedom with effort and sacrifice, hopefully our citizens today will also take up that baton.”

Paula Daza, the health ministry undersecretary, stressed people should continue to wear masks and avoid sharing utensils during the festivities.

It had been a mistake for the government not to discuss how to handle the holiday more broadly with its scientific advisory group, said Izkia Siches, the president of Chile’s College of Medics. The result might have been more “cautious,” she said.

(Reporting by Fabian Cambero, writing by Aislinn Laing, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)