Chilean authorities scold elite escaping city by helicopter for Easter amid coronavirus outbreak

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chileans have a “moral duty” to stay home for the Easter holiday to stave of the spread of the coronavirus, Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel said on Thursday, after reports surfaced of wealthy Santiago residents sneaking off to coastal enclaves by helicopter and private plane.

Chile has confirmed nearly 6,000 coronavirus cases, among the highest tallies in Latin America. The hardest hit regions of capital Santiago, a city of 6 million, are posh, high-end neighborhoods at the foot of the Andes Mountains.

Quarantine measures in many of those normally bustling communities require residents to shelter in place.

Chilean health officials said earlier this week they planned to cordon off the city, setting up road checkpoints manned by police and military, to prevent city dwellers from fleeing to second homes in rural areas at the risk of spreading the virus.

But Santiago mayor Felipe Guevara told state television on Thursday that the city had received complaints “that people are using their own or leased helicopter or aircraft to leave the metropolitan region for their second home.”

Guevara said aviation officials would ask tough questions of any pilot seeking to leave the city.

The country’s nearby Pacific coast and several picturesque small mountain villages and ski towns are year-round tourist destinations for residents of the capital.

“What is going to be tested this weekend is how responsible, how supportive, we are as Chileans,” Blumel said in a televised statement ahead of the holiday.

“Staying at home is not only an obligation, it is a moral and ethical duty,” he said.

Reporting by Natalia Ramos; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bill Berkrot