Chilean president predicts strong growth thanks to vaccine surge

Chile is hoping this year to recoup all the economic growth it has lost due to the coronavirus, the only major Latin American country to do so, because rapid vaccination is helping it beat the pandemic, according to President Sebastián Piñera.

Although a strong second wave of infections triggered new lockdowns late last month, Piñera told the Financial Times that it was mostly unvaccinated young people who tested positive.

“The figures show that the vaccines we are applying in Chile, Pfizer and Sinovac, are effective,” he said in an interview, dismissing doubts about the Chinese coup.

Chile has so far administered 65 doses of the vaccine per 100 people, placing it third in the world after Israel and the United Arab Emirates, both of which have much smaller populations, thanks to early government action to secure supplies.

About 90% of Chileans received the CoronaVac vaccine from Sinovac and a large-scale Health Ministry study released on Friday said the Chinese vaccine was found to be 67% effective in preventing symptomatic infection more than two weeks after. the second dose, although its effectiveness after one dose was much lower. It was 80% effective in preventing death and 85% effective in preventing hospitalizations.

The rapid pace of vaccination should allow the economy to rebound quickly, helped by rising world prices for its main export copper. “We expect this year that the growth of the Chilean economy will be higher than the fall we had last year,” Piñera said. “All projections indicate that Chile will grow by 6% this year and hopefully more.” The economy contracted last year by 5.8%.

Critics attacked the government for loosening mobility restrictions too quickly earlier this year, allowing a new wave of the virus to occur during the southern hemisphere summer and flood hospitals, but Piñera has said the higher summer infection rate was common to many countries and the new lockdowns brought the disease under control.

Chile hopes to achieve herd immunity by June through vaccination, although a former health minister, Jaime Mañalich, questioned whether this was possible when neighboring countries like Brazil, Peru and the Argentina are experiencing high infection rates and new variants are circulating.

Fresh influx of cases forced the postponement to mid-May of elections for a special assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution, replacing a document dating from the Pinochet dictatorship. The new constitution and a massive social assistance program representing 10% of gross domestic product is the centerpiece of the government’s response to a wave of riots and social protests that swept across the country in October 2019.

Investors fear that the assembly will deliberate during the campaigns for the presidential and legislative elections in November and be forced to write unaffordable social commitments in the new charter or to weaken the property rights that have made Chile a destination of choice for foreign capital.

Piñera said that while no country is safe from the global “disease” of populism, he believes in the “wisdom, prudence and good judgment” of the Chileans, stressing that a two-thirds majority is needed. for changes, which should moderate requests.

However, as a sign of growing populism, lower house lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill allowing savers to withdraw money from the Chilean private pension system to spend it now, ignoring government warnings.

Piñera, speaking ahead of the vote, told the FT that “if we continue to withdraw retirement savings, it will be very difficult to give our elderly, now and in the future, a pension that allows them to live. worthily ”. Analysts estimate up to $ 10 billion in savings could be pulled this time, in addition to $ 34 billion released in the first two withdrawals.

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