SANTIAGO, May 27 (Reuters) - Doctors in hospitals across the Chilean capital Santiago said on Wednesday beds are fast running short as new coronavirus cases spike across the city, forcing urgent care wards to make tough decisions with patients flooding the system.
The count of new cases in Chile has quadrupled since early May to about 4,000 daily, with total cases topping 80,000 on Wednesday. Critical care wards in Santiago now report 97% occupancy levels, according to a Tuesday poll by Chile´s Society of Intensive Care Medicine.
The deluge of cases has sowed panic as doctors fear they will soon be forced to decide which patient will receive the last available bed, and who must wait.
"At the rate we´re going, the situation in which we have to choose is right around the corner," said Juan Carlos Said, a doctor at the Sotero del Rio public hospital in Santiago.
The Americas have emerged as the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday, and a U.S. study forecast deaths surging in Brazil and Chile and elsewhere in the region through August.
President Sebastian Pinera told reporters on Wednesday the country was working hard to boost available beds and equipment amid the growing crisis, but acknowledged the threat of collapse was real.
"Our healthcare system, and especially that of (Santiago), is very close to reaching its maximum capacity," Pinera said following a visit to a refuge for coronavirus patients.
Health officials nonetheless urged calm. Chile's government in March took control of the country's private healthcare network, allocating beds and equipment according to regional needs, and using the military to transfer patients.
Health Minister Jaime Manalich on Tuesday called the increasingly dire circumstances an "ethical challenge," but said there were still enough mechanical ventilators available in other parts of Chile to cover needs.
"We have not yet reached the debate about (who receives) the last bed," Manalich said.
(Reporting by Reuters TV and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bill Berkrot)
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