Chilean health authorities tightened restrictions Monday on entering the northern town of La Tirana, which attracts big crowds every year for its principal religious feast day, in their effort to control an outbreak of swine flu in the area.
The number of fatalities from the AH1N1 flu virus remains at 35 nationwide and 12 in the Tarapaca region so far this year, out of a total of 430 cases confirmed across the country, Health Minister Jaime Mañalich said during a visit to a hospital in Iquique.
The July 16 religious feast in La Tirana usually swells the town's population from a few hundred to roughly 250,000.
Visitors include brotherhoods of colorfully clad dancers, some from Pero and Bolivia, who dance for hours in honor of a centuries-old image of Our Lady that is kept in the parish church.
Authorities believe that because of the flu outbreak, the number of visitors this year will drop to between 150,000 and 170,000, all of whom must be vaccinated against the flu to be able to enter Tirana.
"The epidemic in the Tarapaca region is technically under control, as shown by the falling numbers of visits to doctors' offices and to the hospital in Iquique," the health minister said.
He added that this is the result of a vaccination campaign and of the 2013 La Tirana Plan, which has meant the immunization of some 220,000 people in the region over the past three weeks.
There is enough vaccine in the region to immunize all the pilgrims who have not yet been inoculated, Mañalich said. EFE