BRASILIA • The Americas have emerged as the new epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said, as a United States study forecast deaths surging in Brazil and other Latin American countries through to August.
“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,” said Dr Carissa Etienne, director of the Washington-based Pan American Health Organisation (Paho).
“Both Peru and Chile are also reporting a high incidence, a sign that transmission is still accelerating in these countries,” she said at a weekly briefing.
The Paho, which serves as the regional office for the WHO, has been monitoring the pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Dr Etienne called for countries to keep up their fight to curb the spread of infections, which experts estimate far exceed the official count.
“For most countries in the Americas, now is not the time to relax restrictions or scale back preventive strategies,” Dr Etienne, who is WHO director for the Americas, said in a video conference.
“Our region has become the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said, as other Paho directors warned that there are “very tough” weeks ahead for the region and Brazil has a long way to go before it will see the pandemic end.
Also of concern to WHO officials are accelerating outbreaks in Peru, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
As Brazil’s daily death rate became the world’s highest on Monday, a University of Washington study warned that the country’s total death toll could climb five-fold to 125,000 by early August.
The forecast from the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) came with a call for lockdowns that Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has resisted.
Dr Etienne said Brazil’s daily Covid-19 death toll is expected to peak at around 1,020 a day by June 22, citing the IHME model.
With over 394,500 cases, Brazil now has the world’s biggest coronavirus caseload after the US. It has seen 24,593 deaths, according to a tally by Worldometer.
The latest IHME model projections see deaths rising to nearly 7,000 in seven major Mexican states, 6,000 in Ecuador, 5,500 in Argentina and to 4,500 in Colombia by August.
NOT TIME TO RELAX
For most countries in the Americas, now is not the time to relax restrictions or scale back preventive strategies.
DR CARISSA ETIENNE, director of the Washington-based Pan American Health Organisation.
One country in the region doing relatively well against Covid-19 is Cuba, where the IHME forecasts a death toll of just 82 by August, while testing continues to outpace the outbreak.
The Paho recommended a combination of social distancing measures, testing and health system preparations to combat the coronavirus, which was declared a pandemic on March 11 after it appeared in China late last year.
Dr Etienne pointed to parts of the world that have seen their outbreaks slow as examples for how American countries could move forward.
“We have learnt from other regions what works and what doesn’t, and we must continue to apply this knowledge to our context,” she said.
And she warned that the prevalence of pre-existing conditions – such as diabetes – in the Western Hemisphere could make coronavirus even more deadly in the region.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE