More than two months ago, I published opinion columns and gave interviews, where I declared that the first unforgivable mistake had been made: not establishing a cordon sanitaire in the eastern area. I was told a lot of not very nice things. Several friends and relatives told me that Mañalich was a burden, but that he was doing well. The cyber-trolls bombarded social media. Every word in such an interview given to a national newspaper on March 19 was accurate.
I wasn’t the only one. Several of us warned the authorities, wrote columns, reports, went to the radio and television, saying it assertively and without disqualification: the measures were insufficient, they must be drastic and total quarantine is required for Santiago. But they were advised by some artificial intelligence researcher without a street knowledge, without understanding our idiosyncrasy. They did not learn from what had happened in countries with similar cultures –outgoing, high distrust in authority, just overcoming socio-political crises– such as Italy and Spain.
Then, under pressure from the scientific community, they set up two advisory committees that were ignored. They made monumental communication mistakes (which they still make today). They treated all of us who raised our voices as ignorant critics, blaming the citizens for not trusting them. Today, the President has just given one more speech, without a mask, and yet they want people not to disobey.
This government was wrong and has been incompetent. There are political responsibilities here: thousands will die for COVID-19 because of the lousy or delayed measures. There are communes in Santiago and other regions that will be our “Lombardy”.
Some of us were aware of what was coming. We had models and evidence. This will be a much greater catastrophe than the earthquakes of 2010 or 1960. We must prepare for the worst.
Honestly, I hope that those who still have doubts about who is responsible would reflect on it. Hard times are coming. We will not have a plebiscite. The government will join the political opposition, which has not been up to the task.
We could have imitated New Zealand (they have not had anyone sick for five days now), we said that too. Their President learned from the other countries and took care of her people. Setting the example goes first. Our government does not love us, and I cannot help thinking about this tragedy.
Hence, we will start from scratch now so we can have spring. Because if we do not do anything, we are going to run out of spring. For the time being, we must continue to self-manage our physical distancing, wash our hands, and wear masks. But primarily, if you can, if your economic conditions allow it, stay home. Do not risk your life, or your family’s. Today, we anticipate the mourning we will have as a country due to the great human loss, a collective grief that will require great collective healing.
Gonzalo Bacigalupe is a UMASS Boston academic, and expert on public health and disaster management from the Research center for Integrated Disaster Risk Management, CIGIDEN by its initials in Spanish.
Check out the column published in Diario La Segunda here.