June 16, 2020 / 2:35 AM / 18 days ago

Chile extends state of catastrophe by 90 days as coronavirus surges

FILE PHOTO: Mortuary workers wait outside the San Jose public hospital morgue, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Santiago, Chile May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile´s government said on Monday it would extend a state of catastrophe in place since mid-March by 90 days as cases of coronavirus in the South American nation have surged.

The pace of new infections has increased dramatically in May and June, averaging over 5,000 daily in recent weeks. The onslaught has filled critical care wards and prompted authorities to declare a full lockdown in the capital Santiago, a city of more than six million.

The state of catastrophe, extended by presidential decree, gives the government extraordinary powers to restrict freedom of movement and assure food supply and basic services. Quarantine measures are routinely enforced by soldiers in Santiago.

South America has become the new epicenter of the global coronavirus crisis, with Peru, Brazil and Chile particularly hard hit.

Chile has recorded nearly 180,000 infections and more than 3,300 people have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Chile´s interior minister Gonzalo Blumel said most Chileans were abiding by increasingly draconian restrictions on movement, but that “a group of people acting irresponsibly are not complying.”

Blumel said the government would now seek jail time for the most egregious of violations.

Reporting by Natalia Ramos, writing by Dave Sherwood; editing by Grant McCool

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