March 18, 2020 / 2:07 PM / 15 days ago

Chile´s Pinera declares 90-day state of catastrophe over coronavirus outbreak

A woman wearing a preventive mask walks past a closed department store at a financial and commercial area during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Santiago, Chile March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Sofia Yanjari

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Wednesday declared a 90-day state of catastrophe as cases of the new coronavirus mounted in the nation, giving the government extraordinary powers to restrict freedom of movement and assure food supply and basic services.

A military official will oversee the 90-day measure, which is set to take effect Thursday morning. More restrictive actions would be implemented progressively, as dictated by the advance of the virus.

“This state (of catastrophe) is aimed at...preparing ourselves to confront what lies ahead,” Pinera said in a speech from the La Moneda presidential palace.

Pinera said there were 238 cases of coronavirus confirmed in Chile but no deaths. The country has closed schools, shut down its borders and limited public gatherings as the number of cases has multiplied.

Pinera said the order would also assure more security for hospitals, protect supply chains for medicines and allow the government to enforce quarantines and isolation measures.

The move is likely to stamp out any remaining protests over inequality after they were reignited in early March following several turbulent months of demonstrations and riots in late 2019.

Chilean politicians earlier this week began discussions to postpone a referendum on a new constitution scheduled for April 26. A new magna carta was a central demand of widespread social protests, but those have faded with the pandemic.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by David Gregorio and Bernadette Baum

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