The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne has warned countries that it is too soon to lower their guard as the world reaches two years since the it designated COVID-19 a pandemic.
In many parts of the Americas, public health authorities are lifting restrictions.
“When places relax measures at the wrong moment, transmission spikes dangerously and we lose more lives,” Dr. Etienne said in a media briefing Wednesday.
As a result, she urges countries to base decisions on risk assessments and health data and tighten public health guidance if cases go up.
“COVID-19 is likely to be here to stay. We must learn to live with this virus, and quickly adapt to new changes,” the PAHO Director added.
Reflecting on the past two years of the pandemic, Dr. Etienne said that the Americas region had been hit harder than any other region globally, with more than 2.6 million lives lost – half of all global deaths.
“This is a tragedy of enormous proportions, and its effects will be felt for years to come,” the PAHO Director observed.
She also warned that “the pandemic is still a threat today,” with countries experiencing record numbers of new infections during the Omicron wave.
“We all want the pandemic to be over, but optimism alone cannot control the virus,” she said, calling for countries to keep a “finger on the pulse.”
According to the PAHO boss, countries must build on lessons from the past two years to prepare for quick action and adjust public health guidance if a new variant emerges or outbreaks happen.
Etienne said they could ensure continued surveillance and make testing readily available even with low transmission.
The PAHO Director also called for countries to address the inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, highlighting that in Latin America and the Caribbean, 248 million people have yet to receive a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, particularly those in hard to reach, rural areas and underserved communities.
“Our wins against COVID-19 show us what is possible when we work together and use the tools we know are effective,” Dr. Etienne said.
And she referenced the advances made in the fight against COVID-19 in the past year, such as public health measures to slow the spread, safe vaccines, and better treatment options.