Covid vaccine: Chile's jab rollout is world-leading - so why are its hospitals struggling?

  • Video report from ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

Chilean intensive care workers have spoken of their frustration as their country - a global leader in vaccinating its population - experiences a coronavirus surge.

More than 22% of Chile's population has received their second dose, compared to 8.4% in the UK. However, last week, there were almost 50,000 new Covid cases - the highest ever.

ITV News found that intensive care units in the South American country are once again struggling to cope with critically ill Covid patients.

Dr Sebastian Ugarte, head of ICU at Clinica Indisa in Chile's capital, Santiago, said his unit will soon run out of beds.

He told ITV News: "The positive message created by the success of the vaccination rollout could have influenced people to disregard protective measures."

Dr Ugarte also believes that the Chilean government relaxing its restrictions, following the success of its rollout, led to a rise in infections.

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On Monday, England's Chief Medical Officer echoed Dr Ugarte's theory.

Professor Chris Whitty cited Chile when warning the British public that a good vaccination rate does not justify lifting restrictions quickly.

“The assumption that you vaccinate lots of people and the problem goes away, I think Chile is quite a good corrective for that,” he said.

Many Chilean citizens took the lifting of restrictions as a cue to abandon social distancing. They flocked to reopened bars and restaurants, while the government gave blessing to domestic holidays.

Jaqueline Hurtado, a Clinica Indisa nurse

The resurgence of the virus was all too predictable according to Jaqueline Hurtado, a Clinica Indisa nurse.

"We could see people in the streets acting as if nothing is happening, as if they don't believe this is serious," she said.

"They keep throwing parties. It's sad, because those of us here have made sacrifices."

Chileans march on International Women's Day after restrictions were eased. Credit: AP

The crisis filling Chile's cemeteries isn't exactly the same as that facing other nations. After all, the Chile has Brazil and its highly infectious variant on its border. However, a senior figure in Chile's immunisation programme says there are lessons for the world here.

"We can't lose faith in the vaccines. It will work, but we need time.

"The best way to win that time is not to abandon basic protective measures," Dr Mario Luppi, Chief of Infectology at the University of Chile says.

His country got that wrong and a now a nation once praised for leading the way has largely closed its borders and once again imposed a strict lockdown.