COVID-19 variant has overwhelmed Brazil’s healthcare system, expert says

New COVID-19 cases continue to decline in North America, but in Latin America infections are still rising, particularly in Brazil where a resurgence has caused record daily deaths, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warned on Wednesday.

“We are concerned about the situation in Brazil. It provides a sober reminder of the threat of resurgence: areas hit hard by the virus in the past are still vulnerable to infection today,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said in a briefing.

Read more: Coronavirus engulfs Latin America as Brazil, Mexico report record surges in cases

She said cases are on the rise in nearly every Brazilian state, with Amazonas state especially hard hit.

A new variant first discovered late last year has led to a surge in new infections there that have overwhelmed the health care system, which continues to experience widespread shortages of medical supplies, including oxygen, she said.

Brazil needs “very strict” public health measures to curb the surge that is overwhelming hospital ICU wards, PAHO’s incident manager Sylvain Aldighieri said.

Brazil reported a record 1,972 deaths from COVID-19 in 24 hours on Thursday. Brazil has the second-highest total number of deaths behind the United States.

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The United States and Canada continue to see a drop in new cases of COVID-19, PAHO said.

Cuba, the Bahamas, Saint Lucia and Guadeloupe are facing a rise in infections, and in South America Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile are reporting an increase in new cases, while Peru and Bolivia are finally seeing declines, PAHO said,

Vaccines have begun to arrive in Latin America, with 28.7 million doses allocated to the region for the next three months, through the COVAX facility led by the GAVI alliance and the World Health Organization to provide equitable access to shots.

Honduras will receive its first 48,000 doses via the COVAX mechanism in the next few days, Etienne said, followed by El Salvador that is due to get 32,600 doses and Guatemala 81,6000 doses, all of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Read more: At least 14 million people could go hungry in Latin America due to coronavirus: UN

PAHO, the Americas regional office of the WHO, has placed orders with the Serum Institute of India for 135,000 doses for Nicaragua and 228,000 for Bolivia, she said.

But PAHO warned that vaccine supply is limited, due to manufacturing constraints and high demand, and some countries will have to wait several months until they receive theirs.

According to a Reuters tally, Latin America has recorded around 22.3 million coronavirus cases, and 704,000 deaths, almost double the death toll of Asia and Africa combined.

© 2021 Reuters

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