Covid instances are surging once more in Latin America and the U.S., WHO officers warn

People hold their arms after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as part of a government plan to inoculate Mexican border residents on its shared frontier with the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico June 17, 2021.

Jorge Duenes | Reuters

Covid infections are rapidly rising again in the U.S. and Latin America as more contagious variants spread, putting the entire region at risk, World Health Organization officials said in a briefing Wednesday.

Renewed spikes in infections are also exacerbating instability and violence across several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, officials said, noting political upheaval in Haiti, Cuba and other nations as the delta variant takes hold in the Americas.

“Many countries, including the United States, are seeing a resurgence of infections in North America, the U.S. and Mexico are reporting an increase in new infections across most states, many Central American nations are also seeing cases,” Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, the WHO’s regional bureau for the Americas, said Wednesday.

Central American and Caribbean countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Cuba and the Virgin Islands are also seeing upticks in the number of new infections.

Thousands of protestors in Cuba took to the streets this week over frustrations with a crippled economy hit by food and power shortages. The rare protests, the largest the communist country has seen since the 1990s, come as the government struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic, pushing the island’s fragile health-care system to the brink.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Monday that Cubans were “tired of the mismanagement of the Cuban economy, tired of the lack of adequate food and, of course, an adequate response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The seven-day average of new cases in Cuba is up more than fourfold over the last month to 5,659 over the last seven days from an average of 1,256 a day in mid-June, according to CNBC’s analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Deaths on the small island nation have also climbed from about 10 a day a month ago to roughly 32, the data shows.

Overall, deaths and hospitalizations have been declining in South America in recent weeks. But with cases on the rise again officials expect hospitalizations and deaths, which often lag by a few weeks, could soon follow.

Cases in Argentina and Colombia are at record highs as new infections surpass levels seen at the beginning of the pandemic, according to Etienne. Nearby countries like Honduras and Guatemala have not secured enough vaccine doses to immunize even 1% of their population, which could be disastrous if increasing infections from nearby countries spill over, she said.

Colombia, along with Brazil, Cuba and Haiti are seeing situations where political unrest and waves of protests are making it even more difficult for health workers and residents to access lifesaving resources and maintain public messaging to encourage vaccinations.

“Growing violence, instability and crowded shelters could become active hotspots for Covid transmission,” Etienne said. “Limited supplies and violence are also hindering the ability of health workers to safely care for patients in need. In some cases, patients may be avoiding seeking to due to safety concerns.”

PAHO officials are working to get vaccines to Haiti where the island hasn’t yet begun to vaccinate its residents even though it was allocated 760,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s shots through the COVAX Facility, a WHO-backed effort to distribute doses to low-income nations across the world, according to The Washington Post. Violence erupted there following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise last week.

PAHO also warned about countries reopening their economies too soon, warning that countries that have successfully deterred initial waves of infection usually proceed to ignore necessary public health measures like masks and social distancing, leaving themselves open to renewed increases in cases by variants that may bypass vaccine protection.

“Health and well-being must be prerequisites for reactivating the economy in the context of Covid-19 because if the pandemic is not brought under control, economic reactivation will be very difficult,” Etienne said.

— CNBC’s Amanda Macias contributed to this article.

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