Coronavirus spreading like never before in Americas, health agency says

Healthcare workers are pictured at a testing center for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Buenos Aires, Argentina January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo

BRASILIA, Jan 19 (Reuters) – COVID-19 infections are reaching new peaks in the Americas with 7.2 million new cases and more than 15,000 COVID-related deaths in the last week, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

“The virus is spreading more actively than ever before,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne told a briefing.

The Caribbean has had the steepest increase in infections since the start of the two-year-old pandemic, the regional agency said. In North America, the United States and Canada are experiencing a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Given a shortage of testing, PAHO recommended that countries prioritize rapid antigen tests for people with COVID-19 symptoms and who are at risk of spreading the virus.

Even though more than 60% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Omicron is spreading rapidly in all regions, said PAHO Incident Manager Sylvain Aldighieri.

The variant’s advance in coming weeks and months will depend on public health measures to contain it, including use of masks and social distancing and above all vaccinations, to reduce the severity of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, he said.

Brazil has the world’s third highest death toll from COVID-19 after the United States and Russia, according to a Reuters tally.

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