The Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Carissa F. Etienne, has warned against complacency as new COVID-19 cases spiked in Central America, the Caribbean and some South America countries last week.
“Cases rise when complacency sets in,” she warned during a press briefing.
“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,” Etienne declared.
She disclosed that cases are increasing in Central American countries, including El Salvador and Guatemala, where COVID deaths have also surged.
In addition, new infections are spiking in the Caribbean, where Cuba has reported the highest number of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic.
And in the British Virgin Islands, cases have tripled in the weeks after reopening to cruise ships, while 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% 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.
She added, 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% of ICU beds are already in use.”
“When variants of concern circulate,” she continued, “it’s even more important that countries step up surveillance, especially while vaccine coverage remains low.”
In total, the Americas reported nearly 74 million COVID-19 cases and 1.9 million deaths – more than a third of COVID cases and more than 40% 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 programs and destabilized our economies,” she said.
In this regard, she drew attention to a new study from the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) which reported that more than 7 million companies have closed amid the pandemic.