Chile surpasses 500,000 COVID-19 cases on eve of referendum

Chile's coronavirus case total has now surpassed half a million, authorities said Saturday, as the country prepares to go to the polls for a referendum on whether to replace the Pinochet-era constitution.

Chile surpasses 500,000 COVID-19 cases on eve of referendum
A worker disinfects a polling station on the eve of a nationwide constitutional referendum voting in Santiago, on October 24, 2020 amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. A year after the start of a mass wave of social unrest, Chileans vote Sunday in a referendum to change a dictatorship-era constitution seen as the bedrock of the nation's glaring inequalities. AFP
"We have to act with much responsibility in this plebiscite," health undersecretary Paula Daza told reporters as she delivered an update on the pandemic on the eve of the vote.

The health ministry registered 1,631 new infections and 48 deaths in the past 24 hours, meaning Chile has recorded 500,542 cases and nearly 14,000 deaths since March 3.

The situation has remained stable in recent months, though infections are increasing in rural areas in the south.

Authorities have introduced special health measures in voting stations to try to ensure public safety during Sunday's referendum.

Tables, chairs, and other furniture have been disinfected, and voting hours have been extended to give people more time to enter and leave polling centers and avoid overcrowding.

At the National Stadium in Santiago, which is expected to welcome around 300,000 voters, disinfection teams have been spraying the facilities with copper nanoparticles, which have proved effective in destroying the virus.

"This, the largest voting center in the country, is being sanitized to assure people that they can attend tomorrow without fear of getting infected," said Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica.

Every voting table will be equipped with disinfectant gel, and staff at the centers will wear a mask, gloves, and a face shield.

Voters must enter the center unaccompanied, and bring their own pen to mark their choice. 

Chile is slowly emerging from more than seven months of lockdown, but borders and schools remain closed and night curfews remain in place.

Topics: Chile , coronavirus disease , cases , tally , Paula Daza , Baldo Prokurica
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