Second country in the world, behind Israel, to inoculate a fourth dose of anti-Covid-19 vaccine to its inhabitants, Chile began Monday to vaccinate immunocompromised people. A symbol that reflects a particularly successful vaccination campaign: 92% of adults received at least two doses of vaccine (a rate very close to that of France). The vaccination of children between 3 and 5 years old began at the end of December. As of January 13, 77.2% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 had received two doses of the vaccine.
In addition, all adults who wanted it had the possibility of accessing a third dose, now necessary in Chile to keep their vaccination pass activated. Education staff were given priority, as has been the case since the start of the general public vaccination campaign, launched in February 2020.
“Fortunately, the antivax movement is marginal in Chile and there is a very strong culture of vaccination here,” explains infectiologist Claudia Cortés, teacher at the University of Chile, in Santiago. In the country, 52% of the vaccines inoculated come from the Sinovac laboratory, a little less effective [que les vaccins à ARN messager] to avoid contagion”, she says, followed by Pfizer (38%) and AstraZeneca.
Under these conditions, after two years of courses both face-to-face and online, sometimes followed with difficulty by the students, the Minister of Education announced the return to compulsory face-to-face courses from March 2, at the after the austral summer holidays. Opposite “would have been a mistake, to the detriment of our students, both from a health point of view and from an educational point of view”, ensures Release Raúl Figueroa, from his office in the ministry, a few steps from the presidential palace of La Moneda, in Santiago. In a few weeks, the right-wing government, of which he is a part, will give way to the team of the new left-wing president, Gabriel Boric, who will be sworn in on March 11.
Disparities between public and private establishments
In recent months, the resumption of face-to-face classes has become the workhorse of the Minister of Education. He estimates that “the health protocol has proven its effectiveness” last year. According to figures from the ministry, outbreaks of Covid-19 contagion were detected on average in less than 2% of establishments each month last year. Wearing a mask is compulsory for everyone, in class and in the yard, and the measure is generally well respected. Finally, “nearly 90% of students should have two doses of the vaccine by the start of the school year in March, as well as a booster dose” for older children, anticipates Raúl Figueroa.
During the last month of the 2021 school year, a period when the virus was circulating little in Chile, 65% of students went to class at least once. These figures are certainly better than in most countries in the region, but which hide disparities between public establishments (which mainly welcome children from the working classes) and private colleges and high schools (which have more resources).
In a public kindergarten in the northern suburbs of Santiago, Marcia León, 64, received for her class last yeartwo reusable masks per child, but they were too small, did not cover the nose, and the parents did not always wash them”, she regrets. It was finally thanks to donations from certain families that she had enough masks for the students. The teacher, exhausted from having combined face-to-face and online lessons for almost the entire year, also paid for hydroalcoholic gel out of her own pocket to ensure that it was “of good quality».
A “tense calm”
“We of course want to return to face-to-face lessons, assures Carlos Díaz, president of the teachers’ union, whose relations with the Minister of Education are stormy. But the increase in contagions observed in recent weeks is very worrying, and it is not enough to announce a recovery date for everything to be resolved., he says over the phone.
Because if in the hospitals reigns for the moment “a tense calm“, Specifies infectious disease specialist Claudia Cortés, the epidemic continues to progress: Chile has counted 7,291 new cases, an increase of 154% over seven days. However, adds the infectiologist, given the current situation, “it seems reasonable and necessary for the children to resume compulsory face-to-face lessons. Unless of course the situation gets out of control by March..
A full return to class is awaited with some impatience by the parents and children met in downtown Santiago on Wednesday. Piero, 6, has been on vacation since early December and wants “start playing with friends again”. He has language learning disabilities and his mother, Natalia Bustamante, 47, finds he learns much faster in school than online. “Nothing replaces face-to-face lessons”, she notes.