Chile eyes gradual reopening after coronavirus infections slow in some areas

FILE PHOTO: A health worker takes care a patient (not pictured) infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) inside an Intensive Care Unit of the Posta Central hospital in Santiago, Chile, June 9, 2020. Picture taken June 9, 2020. The sign reads 'COVID-19 Confirmed' REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean government officials presented a plan on Sunday to gradually relax lockdown restrictions after the coronavirus infection rate improved in some regions of the country.

The plan, called “Step by Step,” includes five stages that range from total quarantine to advanced opening and will be applied according to epidemiological criteria, the capacity of the healthcare system and the ability to trace cases, officials said.

“These five weeks of improvement allow us to start a new stage today ... This plan, which will be step by step, cautiously, prudently, will be applied gradually and flexibly,” said President Sebastian Pinera in the announcement, adding that 12 regions in the country had improved in recent weeks.

Much of the population of the world’s largest copper producer, including in the capital Santiago, remains under lockdown as Chile works to control the spread of the virus, currently at 330,000 confirmed cases and more than 8,500 deaths.

The government did not specify when Santiago or the mining regions in the north of the country would move into a gradual reopening.

Since the start of the pandemic in early March, Chile’s government has imposed various measures to stem the spread of the virus, including border closures, a shut-down of trade and non-essential services, and a total quarantine for older adults.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall