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By Aislinn Laing
SANTIAGO (Reuters) -Chile announced plans to reopen its borders to visitors on Wednesday in a bid to revive its ailing tourism industry ahead of the Southern Hemisphere summer and following a successful vaccination drive that has seen COVID-19 infections in the country plummet.
Travelers will be required to show a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours before entering Chile, undergo a mandatory 5-day quarantine, have medical travel insurance and show proof of vaccination, public health chief Paula Daza said.
Daza warned visitors not to book their trip to Chile until their vaccination certificate was validated by the Chilean health ministry, which could take a month.
Visitors without vaccines - including children - will only be allowed to enter under strict criteria, such as for humanitarian reasons.
The Chilean Association of Airlines (ACHILA), which has pushed for the reopening of borders, said the new regulations changed nothing in practice.
"Considering the high percentage of vaccinated [people] in our country and the low level of contagion and positivity, the measures announced by the government...continue to be [among] most restrictive...in the world," the group said in a statement.
The group urged the government to eliminate the quarantine requirement and allow children too young to receive vaccines to enter the country to facilitate travel.
The debate comes as life begins to return to normal in Chile, which boasts one the world's highest vaccination rates, with 73% of the population now inoculated against COVID-19.
Borders were closed to visitors in March 2020 when the pandemic first hit, and again in April 2021 when Chile experienced a fiercer, second wave of the virus.
Chile is currently reporting between 200 and 500 new cases a day, with a 1% test positivity rate on Tuesday.
Jose Luis Uriarte, the tourism subsecretary, said foreign tourists were welcome provided they respected the strict self-care measures in Chile of wearing masks and social distancing.
"This is a very important step in the reactivation and recuperation of foreign tourism, which accounts for around 40% of our income from tourism," he said.
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing; writing by Dave Sherwood, editing by Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft)