COVID rising in the Americas, except in the US, Canada and Mexico

The Pan American Health Organization blamed the region’s leaders for an ineffective response to the pandemic.

People waiting to receive the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Mexico City, Mexico [Henry Romero/Reuters]

Coronavirus infections are back on the rise in much of the Americas region after weeks of plateauing and decreasing in figures, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

While the United States, Canada and Mexico are reporting an overall decline in cases and deaths, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said, the rest of the Americas is seeing a rise in new cases, deaths and hospitalisations amid stalled vaccination efforts.

“Central America is reporting the highest number of deaths to date,” Etienne said during a weekly news briefing, and “one-third of hospitalised patients are in the ICUs [Intensive Care Units].”

New cases in Panama, Belize and El Salvador have doubled in the last week, and Colombia, where street protests have been raging for more than a month, is reporting the highest rate of infections in South America. New cases, she said, nearly tripled in some regions.

Uruguay, Argentina and Chile are “on alert”, Etienne added, while Caribbean islands are also reporting a surge in cases.

Brazil, which is due to host the Copa America football tournament later this month, is seeing a rise in new infections and hospitalisations. Hospitals in the northeastern states of the country are at 90 percent capacity.

The Americas region has been hit especially hard by the pandemic. More than 595,000 people died from COVID-19 in the US, the highest death toll in the world, according to statistics collected by Johns Hopkins University. Brazil comes second with more than 465,000 deaths. Mexico ranks fourth with more than 227,00 deaths, although that figure is believed to be much higher.

A man receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [File: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

Etienne said responsibility falls squarely on leaders to effectively respond to the pandemic and to communicate policies to the public.

“Leadership determines the effectiveness of a country’s response,” she said.

“Sadly across our region, we’ve seen misinformation about COVID-19 and this has sown doubt on proven health measures and often in the context of political disputes,” she added.

In many countries, Etienne said leaders are “stocking controversy where there is none” and “are sending mixed messages to the public and standing in the way of effective measures to control the virus”.

“We need leaders to prioritise the decisions required to stop this virus in its track,” Etienne said.

The Caribbean island of Haiti is a cause of particular concern, where cases are on the rise amid a health system already under strain, officials said. Two variants have been identified in the country.

Brazil is due to host the Copa America football tournament starting June 13 [File: Amanda Perobelli/Reuters]

Etienne said public health measures are being largely ignored by the general population in Haiti, further increasing transmission. The country should be receiving a shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine soon through the COVAX vaccine sharing programme.

But another key issue plaguing the region is equity. While the US has made significant headway in its vaccination campaign, with more than 40 percent of its population fully vaccinated, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina are lagging behind with 20 percent or less having received one shot, according to Our World in Data statistics.

Many countries, especially in Central America, have struggled to acquire or buy vaccination doses and have yet to make any significant progress in their inoculation campaigns.

Last month amid pressure, US President Joe Biden said the US would contribute a total of 80 million doses abroad by the end of June.

Source: Al Jazeera