Aysén in the time of Covid-19

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Caleta Tortel. Photo: Tomas MoggiaCaleta Tortel. Photo: Tomas Moggia 

 
By Peter Hartmann
Translation by Will Young and Martin Cosgrove
 
It’s been such a long while since we last had a major catastrophe in Aysen that such a thing would seem like a rare occurrence, especially given how we have had a summer without wildfires. We have lately been observing the cornavirus in other countries as if it is some far-away issue. That is until we saw people arriving to our shores from these countries with this pandemic when they should have been subject to preventative quarantine measures.
 
But life in our country is easy-going. After a friend from Coyhaique returned from a trip to Europe she was obligated to carry on with her job at the regional government, where she proceeded to cause a panic and was then given sick leave. And while the quarantine is applied to some people (albeit informally), others casually disembark from their cruise ship in Caleta Tortel with no control (a quarantine?). To top it all off, the maritime authorities in this little town knew there was a suspected infected person on board, whom they allowed to get off the ship anyway (did they think about consulting first with health authorities?).
 
At this stage in the global village, and three months from the start of the pandemic, we can assume we all know that the famous coronavirus has an incubation time of two weeks. During that time the carrier infects others, and therefore if someone is suspected to have the symptoms for the virus, there are likely already others who are infected. In fact, several days later, five infected passengers from the aforementioned cruise ship landed by helicopter in the Puerto Montt hospital, where two days later they tested positive. For sure, have we have not also learned during this period how other countries do not allow cruise passengers to disembark if they are possible carriers?
 
As well, who would have ever thought that a small cove like Caleta Tortel, perhaps the most isolated place in all of Chilean Patagonia, would be suitable for the arrival of big cruise ships? Were the boats not supposed to dock at Puerto Yungay? Are there measures for evaluating the environmental impact of this activity, which affects a protected area (Article 11 of Chile’s environmental law)? If there were an evaluation, one of them would entail more measures of prevention and precaution. This was what impact evaluations are there for, and they are hardly ever taken seriously in Aysen or this country. It would seem as though, in our neoliberal Chile, that big business and the profits for a few are more important than the health and safety of us all.
 
In the past three months, one would think that our supposedly excellent “world-class” health system has had sufficient time to take preventative measures, but instead its resorted to improvisation. How is it possible that the suspicion of someone carrying the virus had been confirmed so recently and not until two whole days had passed? Two days, over which a lot of people left and entered Tortel, including authorities and those meeting up with people from Tortel in Cochrane, a location where quarantine had been self-imposed.
 
And what about other people? Do we actually have sufficient capacity in our hospitals? Meanwhile, more than a year has passed without the new Chile Chico hospital being successfully financed and the one in Cochrane hasn’t been completed. Aren’t these new hospitals meant to deal with these emergencies? While we can keep ourselves informed about the virus, we have hospitals that don’t even have maternity wards and all the special care services have ended up being concentrated in Coyhaique. How can this be?! And while they tell us to avoid crowds, we stay at home, and we avoid coming within one meter of each other, our health service causes crowds to form in the streets to get their flu shots. What kind of example does that set? 
 
Now, Chile has become the country with the highest rate per capita of infected people in the world. Our disgraced and weak government regretfully has little credibility and that it makes it doubly hard to keep things like this under control. Truth be told, considering how events are developing in Italy at the moment and how the quarantine in Tortel is going, it makes one very scared.
 
With the arrival of the coronavirus and the growth in its number of cases, and with the increasingly prevalence of improvisation and mistrust, there has been a surge in psychosis, fear, stockpiling and other negative consequences which certainly don’t help to confront the problem. It would be more worthwhile for us to engage in reinforcing our personal health – boosting our immune systems for example – before the virus gets to you. Some advice: take vitamin C (the local “rosa mosqueta” is the fruit with the highest concentration, followed by the bell pepper, the kiwi and then other citrus fruits – but don’t boil them as this causes them to lose their nutrients); sleep well; avoid stress; eat foods that are healthy and non-fattening; consider an occasional fast (which can help if you are in good health); and raise our levels of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin (good ways of doing that are through sport, falling in love, achieving success and communing with nature). If respiratory illness and flu-like symptoms happen to you, relief can be found through infusions of mugwort, turmeric, ginger and echinacea. To be clear: be careful! The coronavirus is highly contagious and the greatest threat it poses is collapsing a health care system that isn’t prepared for so many sick people at one time.
 
Finally, if you think the Covid-19 pandemic deserves our urgent attention, which it does, then the climate emergency, whose effects and consequences are likely even worse, deserves it still more.
 
The author, Peter Hartmann, is coordinator of the Aysen Reserve of Life Coalition.