PAHO Director Warns Complacency Allowing For Spikes In COVID-19 Cases

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(CMC) — The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, Wednesday said that new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases spiked in Central America, the Caribbean and some South America countries last week.

“Cases rise when complacency sets in. We are all tired, but after experiencing successive peaks of infections in the same locations, we must break this cycle by embracing public health measures early and consistently,” the Dominican-born PAHO official told reporters at her weekly news conference.

PAHO said cases are increasing in Central American countries, including El Salvador and Guatemala, where COVID deaths have also surged.

It said new infections are spiking in the Caribbean, where Cuba has reported the highest number of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic. In the British Virgin Islands, cases have tripled in the weeks after reopening to cruise ships. And in Mexico and the United States, infections are rising.

But creating a “mixed picture” of the virus’s trajectory, new COVID-19 infections declined overall by nearly 20 per cent in the Americas last week as the pandemic eased in much of South America. “COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths are dropping across most of the continent, including in Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, and Chile,” Dr Etienne said, adding however, that cases are rising in Argentina and reaching their highest levels in Colombia, “raising concerns about the health system’s ability to cope as 98 per cent of ICU beds are already in use.

“When variants of concern circulate. It’s even more important that countries step up surveillance, especially while vaccine coverage remains low.”

In total, the Americas has reported nearly 74 million COVID-19 cases and 1.9 million deaths – more than a third of COVID cases and more than 40 per cent of deaths reported globally.

Dr Etienne also warned that the pandemic is creating serious social and economic impacts.

“COVID-19 has not just ravaged our health systems, it has fractured social protection programmes and destabilized our economies,” she said, drawing attention to a new study from the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The study reported that more than seven million companies have closed amid the pandemic.

“We urge countries to continue prioritizing health and social safety nets as part of their COVID response and as they turn their sights to COVID recovery,” she added.

Dr Etienne expressed particular concern about Haiti, where “thousands of people” have been displaced by violence and instability and “crowded shelters could become active hot spots for COVID transmission.

“PAHO, along with other partners, is committed to supporting the Haitian people in these uncertain times and urges other international organizations to join us in supporting the COVID response,” she said.

In recent weeks, PAHO has delivered personal protective equipment to Haiti, helped expand care for COVID-19 patients, and provided thousands of tests and laboratory materials. PAHO has also helped train community health workers and supported the Ministry of Health in preparing for vaccine introduction and setting up new systems to dispel rumours.