By Aislinn Laing
SANTIAGO, April 30 (Reuters) - Chile said on Thursday it would start reopening its national parks next week to give people a "well-being alternative" after weeks of coronavirus lockdowns.
Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker said 21 national parks and wilderness areas up and down the country would reopen on Monday and that he hoped to have opened up all parks by the end of May.
"Our aim is to provide a well-being alternative for people, looking at overall health, since it is proven that contact with nature has broad benefits, both for physical health and mental," Walker said in a statement.
But the country's borders as well as national parks best known by tourists, such as the Torres Del Paine in Patagonia, remain closed.
Within weeks of the first coronavirus case being confirmed in Chile on March 3, the country enacted widespread quarantines that required people to apply for online permits to walk their dogs for a maximum of 20 minutes and two blocks.
But Health Minister Jaime Manalich said “prudence and wisdom” were needed when applying quarantines since they carried increased risks to people's mental health.
Chile has begun to drop quarantines and reopen its economy in a bid to head off further job losses.
This week, several shopping malls in the capital, Santiago, reopened. Manalich also announced the rescheduling of some routine surgeries.
The national forestry commission's executive director, Jose Manuel Rebolledo, said park rangers and visitors' safety was the primary concern and protective measures would be taken.
By Thursday, there had been 16,023 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Chile and 227 deaths. (Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Peter Cooney)