Friday, March 19, 2021

After the Jabs? Post-Pandemic Patagonia's Not Quite There

Proof of life?

On February 24th, I received my second dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and, two weeks later, I undertook a full-scale grocery mission to Berkeley Bowl West for the first time in a year (my wife—also fully vaccinated now—was doing the shopping in that time, while I had only made occasional brief sorties to a neighborhood grocery). It felt like a milestone, one of the first, perhaps, in my quest to return to southernmost South America (even if, for now, I may have to settle for the pears on display here).

The aisles at Berkeley Bowl, on my first visit in a year

A nice pair?

I have yet to renew my passport—having waited purposefully until a new and competent administration took over the reins of government in Washington—but, in any event, I won’t be heading south until November at the earliest. That said, I couldn’t help but notice that LATAM Airlines was offering flights from Los Angeles to Santiago for as little as US$500 r/t. For some time after I returned from Chile to LAX last March 27th, the pandemic had closed the border to all but Chilean citizens and permanent residents but now, it appears, times may be changing.


Is Chile Winning the Arms Race?

Part of the reason, surely, is Chile’s success in vaccinating its population. According to Latin America Reports, five million Chileans may have already received their inoculations, and the government has agreements with China (Sinovac), Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca to acquire 36 million doses (the country’s population is roughly 19 million). While President Sebastián Piñera’s second term has been shaky, there’s no doubt that his administration has been proactive in protecting the population (though there’ve been conflicting data on the Chinese vaccine’s effectiveness). Quarantines, curfews, and other sanitary measures also remain in force.

What does this mean for intending for potential foreign visitors (like myself and my readers)? Because of the previous US administration’s malfeasance and negligence, it’s been worrisome that US passports may have lost the cachet they once had but, as LATAM’s promotional fare would suggest, that’s not an issue at present. That said, any trip to Chile will run into various restrictions: there are several COVID requirements, including a negative PCR test, a sworn pre-boarding statement, a health insurance policy, an electronic tracking form on arrival, and an obligatory ten-day quarantine. Santiago’s Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez is the only authorized entry point, and there are additional requirements for traveling beyond Santiago, especially to Patagonia, which may entail additional PCR tests.


How Hard is the Border?

These are Argentina's open border crossings - but with restrictions

In my case, the need to cross the Argentine border complicates matters even further, but I’m probably better placed than most. At present, the only non-Argentines permitted to enter must be relatives of Argentines and, being married to one for nearly 40 years, I technically qualify—but only if there’s a family-related issue at stake. There are just a handful of open crossings, the most convenient of which is Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, commonly known as “Ezeiza,” in suburban Buenos Aires. The only option in Patagonia is Paso San Sebastián, shared by Argentina and Chile, in Tierra del Fuego, but if I somehow managed to enter Argentina, a patchwork of local and provincial travel restrictions could make any such achievement a pyrrhic victory. Instead, I’ll wait.

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