Chile’s Health Minister Resigns as Coronavirus Deaths Hit Record

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Chile’s health minister resigned Saturday as the daily death toll from the coronavirus pandemic hit a record and new cases soared.

Jaime Manalich left the post with immediate effect and was replaced by Enrique Paris, the former head of the Medical College.

Manalich had promoted Chile’s policy of dynamic lockdown that restricted movement in specific neighborhoods rather than entire cities in a bid to control the spread of coronavirus.

The policy ultimately failed as new cases spiraled in May, forcing the government to put all of Santiago into a lockdown. Chile now has more cases of the coronavirus per capita than any other country after Qatar and Bahrain, although its death rate is not among the highest.

“The first mission of Minister Paris will be to fight the coronavirus, but he also has the job of leading a deep reform of the public and private health system,” President Sebastian Pinera said.

Chile’s health ministry reported a record 231 new deaths from Covid-19 on Saturday, and 6,509 new cases. That brought total cases to 167,355, more than France, and fatalities to 3,101.

Immunity Passports

It’s an ignominious end to Manalich’s second stint in the post. He also served as health minister during Pinera’s first term in government from 2010 to 2014.

It wasn’t just the dynamic lockdowns that created controversy, though. As the coronavirus pandemic started to spread in Chile, Manalich had also backed the introduction of immunity cards for those who’ve recovered from Covid-19 and could no longer infect others. He backtracked and scrapped the project following warnings it could fuel discrimination and more infections.

“It has been brought to our attention that the cards could trigger a severe problem of discrimination,” Manalich said at the time. They would give a minority of people privileges when being hired, re-hired or simply entering public buildings, he said.

However, for many others, the problem was more scientific than social. The United Nations and the World Health Organization have questioned how long people remain immune after recovering from the disease, and warned the cards could undermine quarantine efforts.

Paris will have to repair some of the relations with medical professionals damaged by Manalich.

“We all know that the best way to face the pandemic is with unity, dialog and agreements,” Pinera said Saturday.

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