in Chile, the Minister of Health resigns at the height of the epidemic

Jaime Mañalich (right), President Sebastián Piñera (center) and the new Minister of Health, Oscar Enrique Paris, June 13 in Santiago.

“As far as I am concerned, I have come to the conviction that this new stage in the fight against the coronavirus requires new leadership. “ A surgical mask on his face and a Chilean flag pinned to his jacket, Jaime Mañalich officially announced his resignation from the post of Minister of Health on Saturday June 13, after several months of management marked by hesitation and controversial statements.

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This 66-year-old former doctor, close to the right-wing president Sebastián Piñera, of whom he was already the Minister of Health during his first mandate (2010-2014), was particularly criticized by the Medical Association of Chile, which accused him for not having acted in time in the face of the advance of the epidemic in the country. The government, betting on a strategy of collective immunity, had indeed contented itself, at first, with targeted compulsory confinement, concerning only a few municipalities, while many health professionals urged it to extend the measure to the whole region of Santiago, which concentrates 7.5 of the 18 million inhabitants of Chile.

An underestimated epidemic

Jaime Mañalich, who was expelled from the Order of Physicians in 2015 for breaches of ethics (a sanction subsequently canceled, the doctor specializing in nephrology and epidemiology having already left the Order at that time), seemed to repeatedly underestimate the severity of the epidemic, going so far as to wonder, on March 21: “What would happen if this virus mutated to a milder form?” What would happen if it mutated and turned into a good virus? “.

Mr. Mañalich also advocated the strategy of “New normal”, invoked at the end of April, when the peak of the epidemic had not been reached, by the government to revive the economic activity of the country. “As the measures become more flexible, citizens can, by taking all possible precautions, resume a somewhat normal life, pleaded the ex-minister, eat an empanada or go for a beer, for example. “ Recommendations quickly withdrawn, faced with the sharp increase in the number of new cases in May, which forced the government to take more stringent measures.

Compulsory confinement of the entire Santiago region was finally decreed in mid-May. Too late, according to the Medical Association and part of the opposition. Chile is currently going through its most serious phase of the epidemic: in the region of Santiago, the most affected by the coronavirus, 96% of the intensive care and intensive care beds are occupied, according to the Chilean society of intensive medicine. More than 167,000 positive cases were identified in the country as of June 13, representing one of the highest contagion rates in the world, although it should be noted that Chile has so far conducted more tests than its neighbors, of the order of 40,000 per million inhabitants, compared to 5,000 in Argentina.

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