First Steps in Chile between Changes in Government and Immunity Passports

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 19 (En Español)

Since declaring its state of constitutional exception on March 18 and extending it consecutively, the Chilean government has established several policies of mitigation and protection. These measures prompted an increase in the government’s approval ratings, reaching its highest level at 25% back in May 2020. It’s important to mention that Chile has had to combat COVID-19 in the midst of citizens’ demands which began with the social protests on October 18, 2019. Considering this framework of social unrest, the high approval ratings are comparatively low if you look at those from before October 18, 2019. Today’s reality is that the levels of disapproval remain high at 70%.

Far from reducing the disapproval of the government and partisan confrontations, COVID-19 has fragmented a good part of the current government’s posture. At the same time, public opinion is observing in a critical way how the government acts in relation to the health measures taken.

First page of Chile’s Official Gazette declaring the country’s state of constitutional exception (March 18, 2020)

Changes in Government

In an attempt to enact substantial modifications, President Sebastián Piñera made a series of changes to his government. During the month of June 2020, Chile experienced a significant amount of changes in its ministries.

On June 4, 2020, Cristián Monckeberg left his position at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and Felipe Ward was named as his replacement. Cristián Monckeberg took the leadership of the Ministry of Social Development, replacing Sebastián Sichel, who took over the presidency of the Board of Directors of National Bank. In the General Secretariat of the Presidency, Claudio Alvarado replaced Felipe Ward. Alvarado used to be undersecretary of Regional Development. On June 9, Macarena Santelices resigned from the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity, and in her place, Mónica Zalaquett was confirmed.

La Moneda Palace

One of the most emblematic changes came from the Ministry of Health. On June 13, after numerous criticisms against the response to the pandemic, Enrique Paris replaced Jaime Mañalich. The former minister was accused of uttering a series of unfortunate statements about the pandemic. One example took place on March 21 when he expressed that the quarantine was “senseless and unnecessary” and declaring at the same time: “What happens if the virus mutates and becomes a good person?” On April 4, his statements made clear that they were counting deaths as “recovered”: “In relation to the number of recovered patients, in the definition that we have used based on the advise of international experts, we have 898 recovered patients which are not contagious, that are not a source of contagion to others, and we include them as recovered. These are the people that have reached 14 days after their diagnosis or that have died unfortunately.”

Coronavirus Figures in Chile

After 3 months of the pandemic, it became evident that there needed to be a change of leadership in the Ministry of Health. With Dr. Enrique Paris at the helm of the Ministry, changes in the following months prompted a decrease in contagion rates, the number of recovered people, mortality, testing, tracing and social isolation, and that is reflected in the latest COVID-19 epidemiology report (no. 71, November 25, 2020). While there is an increase in the number of PCR tests and recovered cases, the curve of contagions and the rate of positivity are both on constant decrease. Please find below a series of reported figures on November 25, which can be reviewed in the oficial data published daily.

Daily data presented by the official authorities. Source: http://www.gob.cl

Number of COVID-19 deaths. Source: http://www.gob.cl

COVID Passports

An example of the digital version of a COVID Passport. Source: infobae.com

The idea of issuing “immunity passports” to those who recovered from coronavirus lasted for only one month. Cases of re-infected people and an economy deeply affected by the pandemic put a stop to this program. Several international legal experts expressed their concerns regarding the potential threat against privacy and the need to protect against the usage of personal data without consentment. Had the “immunity passports” been implemented, Chile would have had to endure a significant amount of labor discrimination, as confirmed by the government.

The World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that there was no sufficient proof that those who recovered from coronavirus were automatically immune. The Chilean government confirmed that the decision to cancel the “immunity passports” was taken in order to prevent potential acts of discrimination. Despite its short duration and eventual cancellation, the case of the Chilean “immunity passports” has been studied and considered in other countries such as Germany, Spain, UK, USA among others.

By María Antonieta Ubillo and María Angélica Fuentes

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