WHO Warns Against Global Surge In COVID Cases Driven By Americas Region – Brazilian Expert Says Country Is A ‘Biological Fukushima’
Brazil on Tuesday recorded 4,195 COVID-19 deaths – bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 366, 000- second only to the United States.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday urged governments in the Americas Region to take decisive action to slow a surge of COVID-19 cases after recording more than 1.3 million new cases and 37 000 deaths in just the past week.

Describing the new rate of infections as “worrisome”, Carissa Etienne, director of the WHO’s regional office, the Pan American Health Organization, said health care facilities in the region were being stretched to the limit as the rate of infections continued to climb, ICU beds were nearing capacity.

Brazil alone recorded more than 4,000 deaths in its deadliest 24 hours of the pandemic so far.

“Over the last week, the United States, Brazil and Argentina were among the 10 countries in the world, registering the highest number of new infections worldwide” said Etienne, adding that “more than half of all global deaths reported last week were in the Americas.

“The United States, Brazil and Argentina were among the 10 countries in the world registering the highest number of new infections worldwide,” she noted, with many other countries in the region not far behind. 

Despite the skyrocketing numbers, people are steadily increasing their movement and travelling within and between countries. “If these trends continue, our health systems will be in deeper trouble,” warned Etienne, urging people to stay home to drive down infections.  

Infection rates Slowing in United States & Mexico 

“Cases are mounting in nearly every country. In areas of Bolivia and Colombia cases have doubled in the last week. All four countries in the southern code have been experiencing acceleration in COVID-19 cases with one interrupted community transmission in recent weeks,” she said.

Rising rates of new infections were also still being recorded in countries including Costa Rica, Honduras,  Ecuador, Guatemala, as well as in smaller islands like Martinique Bermuda and the US Virgin Islands.

The exceptions were the United States, Mexico, Salvador and Panama, where the rate of new cases was now finally slowing down. 

In the United States, US government officials said that the slowdown in the US in new cases may be attributable to the huge US vaccine drive which has seen some 60 million vaccine doses distributed so far – the most in absolute terms anywhere in the world. 

Brazil’s Grim COVID-19 Numbers – ‘A Biological Fukushima’

The Brazilian Health Ministry on Tuesday said 4,195 people had died ín the past 24 hours due to the virus – bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 366,000- second only to the United States.

Sylvian Aldighieri, PAHO incident manager for COVID, said: “Our concern at the moment is also for the Brazilian citizens themselves in this context of services that are overwhelmed by the number of severe cases to be managed”.  He added that PAHO was working with Brazil to acquire more vaccines.

Brazilian hospitals across the country are being stretched to their limits as the rate of infections continues to climb. More young people are falling ill, and needing medical care, he noted, as the current wave of the pandemic is marked by more easily transmissible strains of the virus.

“It’s a nuclear reactor that has set off a chain reaction and is out of control. It’s a biological Fukushima,” Dr Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian medic and professor at Duke University, was quoted as saying.  Over the course of April 2021, Brazil appears set to hit an all-time record of 200,000 deaths per month, with 50% of those due to COVID19.  It would be the first time deaths surpass births in the country, Nicolelis remarked in a tweet. 

“Never in Brazilian history have we seen a single event kill so many people in 30 days,”, added the Duke professor, who also coordinates COVID response in Brazil’s northeastern region, speaking to AFP, adding that with winter now approaching, Brazil is facing “a perfect storm.”

Speaking on local Brazilian TV, Nicolelis held President Jair Bolsonaro largely responsible – due to his pushback against mask-wearing, social distancing, and lockdown measures. 

“We’re in a dreadful situation, and we’re not seeing effective measures by either state or federal governments” to respond, epidemiologist Ethel Maciel of Espirito Santo Federal University also told the AFP.

Despite the recent surge, Brazilian officials have tried to retain an upbeat note, insisting that the country can soon return to something resembling business as usual. 

“We think that probably two, three months from now Brazil could be back to business,” Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said during an online event on Tuesday. “Of course, probably economic activity will take a drop but it will be much, much less than the drop we suffered last year … and much, much shorter.”

Economic Impact of the Pandemic

Overall for the region, however, the financial strain of this pandemic has been devastating and effectively fighting COVID-19 is impossible without addressing some of the inequalities and supporting the most vulnerable as they struggle to protect themselves, said Etienne.

“While many of us have been lucky enough to continue working during the pandemic from the comfort and safety of home, half of our workforce relies on the informal economy. Staying at home would have meant forgoing their livelihoods, “she said, adding that 22 million people fell into poverty this year in the region. 

Despite the gloom and doom, there is some good news, according to Etienne.

To date more than 210 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across 49 countries and territories in the Americans. While the United States is leading the region and the world in its vaccine campaign, other countries, such as Chile, are also vaccinating at high rates. 

PAHO has also developed an interactive platform where countries can visualize the public health measures that were implemented. This will help countries, among others, identify peaks and mobility during specific periods such as Christmas New Year and inform pandemic responses.

“As we continue to fight this virus, we must do more than just stop COVID-19.  We must commit to working together to build a fairer healthier world, we must also take this opportunity to build a healthier region that’s better prepared to tackle the next challenge, and realises our promise of health for all,” said Etienne.


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