Latin America now COVID-19 epicentre, says PAHO

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) is now declaring Latin America the new epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases in that region “continue to rise” by the thousands daily.

PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne, addressing a virtual news briefing yesterday, said “two of the three countries with the highest number of reported cases are now in the Americas. There can be no doubt our region has become the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

According to PAHO, as of May 25 there have been more than 2.4 million cases and over 143,000 deaths due to COVID-19 reported in the Americas, as global cases topped five million this week. It said Latin America surpassed Europe and the United States in the daily number of reported novel coronavirus infections, numbers, it suspects, are even higher than it now knows.

“In South America we are particularly concerned that the number of new cases reported last week in Brazil was the highest for a seven-day period since the outbreak began. Both Peru and Chile are also reporting a high incidence, a sign that transmission is still accelerating in these countries. All of the alarms that we have sounded, the solidarity that we have called for and the guidance that we have issued over the past three months, all of this was to prepare us for this time,” Dr Etienne said.

The PAHO head said complacency is out of the question for the region at this time.

“For most countries in the Americas, now is not the time to relax restrictions or scale back preventive strategies, now is the time to stay strong, to remain vigilant and to aggressively implement proven public health measures. We have learnt from other regions, we have learnt what works and what does not and we must continue to apply this knowledge to our context. Now is the time for action, not for diversion. The lives and well-being of millions across our region depend on it,” she declared.

In a breakdown of the cases in the region she said on May 25 countries in the region reported the highest number of new cases as compared to the previous day with the United States reporting more than 26,200 cases in one day, a two per cent increase; Brazil, 15,800 cases in one day, a five per cent increase; Chile, more than 4,900 cases in one day, a seven per cent increase; Peru, 4,200 cases representing a four per cent increase; Mexico, 2,760 new cases, a four per cent increase; and Canada, 1,000, representing a one per cent increase.

Dr Etienne said the countries reporting the highest number of new deaths were the United States, a three per cent increase; Brazil, three per cent; and Mexico, three per cent.

In the meantime, she said PAHO uses its own COVID-19 model to project daily and cumulative information to support needs assessment at the country level while sounding a note of caution.

“Models have limitations, they are primarily tools to forecast scenarios in complex situations; they must never be taken literally. Situations can be altered based on the particular response in any one country,” the PAHO director said.

She noted that, based on the PAHO models by subregion, in North America no substantial change for the US and Canada is expected; however, a continuing increase of cases is projected for Mexico.

“For Central America we project acceleration in El Salvador and Guatemala. This is now happening at the highest level. We are projecting a steep increase in Nicaragua, irrespective of the limitations that we have in accessing data, and Honduras remains at the same level as the previous week,” Dr Etienne said.

In the meantime, PAHO says cases in South America, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela continue to increase while Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay show a slight decrease.

In the Caribbean, Dr Etienne said Haiti continues with an accelerated growth, with no substantial change noted in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico while slight increases are projected in Jamaica. She said Cuba continues to report a decreasing trend while many other small island states in the Caribbean are reporting no new cases.

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