Intensive care units in Chile are nearing capacity, the country’s health officials said Tuesday, as the coronavirus pandemic forces doctors to make unthinkable choices about whose lives to prioritize.
Authorities in the South American country said approximately 95 percent of their 2,400 ICU beds are filled, even after capacity was doubled in March. In and near the capital of Santiago, which has reported more than four in five infections nationwide, it’s even worse: 97 percent of beds were full.
“This is an extraordinarily difficult time,” said Jaime Mañalich, the Chilean health minister, according to the Associated Press.
Chile had initially implemented a strategy of “dynamic quarantines,” restricting movement only in specific neighborhoods, that at first appeared to be working. In late April, President Sebastián Piñera indicated that schools and offices would be reopening soon.
But over the past month, Bloomberg reported, the number of cases per capita has spiraled at rate similar to Spain at its worst.
As of early Wednesday, nearly 78,000 cases had been reported, with about 4,000 new infections added to that figure every day — the third-highest total in Latin America. Among the country’s newly reported cases are two top government ministers.
The rapidly rising number of patients has created an increasingly dire situation in the country’s hospitals. In Maipú, on the edge of Santiago, one facility had only one ventilator left.
“In this very moment, I am choosing which bed will be vacated and who will take that spot,” Claudia Vega, the ICU director at El Carmen de Maipú hospital, said during a TV interview. “May God enlighten me.”