Pandemic ‘far from controlled’ in the Americas: PAHO

Facing new variants and a limited number of vaccines, some countries are approaching 100 percent ICU capacity.

The Pan American Health Organization said in Chile and Peru, 95 percent of ICU beds are occupied. And Colombia's health minister said the country's ICU occupancy is approaching 100 percent [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

COVID-19 infections are surging in the Americas with some nations’ intensive care unit (ICU) beds near 100 percent occupancy and the region facing new variants and an insufficient supply of vaccines.

During a weekly news briefing on Wednesday, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne said the surge in infections and widespread deaths – 40 percent of the world’s COVID deaths reported last week were in the Americas – are putting immense pressure on health systems.

“Across our region, nearly 80 percent of our intensive care unit beds are filled with COVID patients and the numbers are even more dire in some places,” Etienne said during the virtual briefing.

Etienne said in Chile and Peru, 95 percent of ICU beds are occupied. In Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, 96 percent of ICUs are in use and some areas in Brazil have “waiting lists for ICU beds”.

Colombian Minister of Health Fernando Ruiz on Wednesday said ICU occupancy in the capital, Bogota, is approaching 100 percent, with nearly 500 patients needing to be admitted.

“Each cluster creates a risk we no longer have the capacity for,” he said in a tweet.

A woman receiving a dose of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in La Paz, Bolivia [File: Manuel Claure/Reuters]

Etienne said that in the past week, the Americas reported more than 1.2 million new coronavirus cases and nearly 34,000 deaths.

“Nearly 40 percent of all global deaths reported last week happened right here in the Americas,” Etienne said.

“This is a clear sign that transmission is far from being controlled in our region,” she said.

The surges come amid an insufficient supply of vaccines, PAHO officials said, and the spread of the highly transmissible B.1.617 variant found in India, which has been detected in six countries of the Americas.

A healthcare worker preparing a COVID-19 vaccination dose in Mexico City, Mexico [Henry Romero/Reuters]

Etienne said more than 140 million people have been fully vaccinated in the region so far. And the World Health Organization’s approval of China’s Sinopharm vaccine last week, is good news for the Americas, as it paves the way for the vaccine to be included in the COVAX vaccination programme for lower-income countries, which the region relies on.

“But until we have enough vaccines to protect everyone, our heath systems and the patients that rely on them remain in danger,” Etienne said.

Meanwhile, cases have been accelerating across widespread border areas in the region, she said, along some regions of Costa Rica and Honduras bordering Nicaragua, and in border regions of Guatemala and El Salvador.

In South America, she said cases are surging in areas of Guyana and Bolivia that border Brazil. And in Colombia, where COVID-19 cases have been steadily increasing over several weeks, PAHO expects even steeper rises following weeks of anti-government protests.

Source: Al Jazeera