Chile hospital gives families a last goodbye

The University of Chile's clinical hospital in Santiago has made the rare decision of letting families of COVID-19 patients see their dying loved ones.

It's breaking with the practice at many hospitals around the world, that has placed the need to slow the spread of the coronavirus above providing patients the comfort of being with their families in their final moments.

That's forced many of the nearly half a million who have died globally to suffer alone, or say a digital goodbye.

Carlos Romero, who heads the hospital's intensive care unit, says the decision to let a family visit is made when it's apparent that the end is near, where possible, while adhering to a specific safety protocol.

"You realize that in some sick patients the disease is finally beyond what we're able to do to help them recover....With those patients we can call the family, we prepare them, they have to match a certain profile, because they can't be under quarantine, they can't have close contact, they can't be in a risk group so that they don't have a danger of becoming infected, but they can come and be with them for a few moments."

Visitors are screened for the coronavirus and issued with the same protective equipment used by medics, before being guided into the sealed glass rooms with COVID-19 patients.

So far, the hospital's ICU has avoided any cases of contagion among its staff.

Latin America is now seeing a major surge in coronavirus infections and Chile is one of its hardest-hit nations.

Romero says that it's the small victories of seeing some patients recover that keep his staff going... and for the patients who don't make it, they've at least created a space to say goodbye.