Most of This Year’s New Virus Cases Were in the Americas, WHO Officials Say

The Americas continue to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and it is too soon for countries in the region to relax public health measures, World Health Organization officials warned on Wednesday.

Though the region is home to less than 13 percent of the world’s population, the Americas reported 63 percent of the world’s new known coronavirus cases in the first two months of 2022, Dr. Carissa Etienne said at a news conference Wednesday. Dr. Etienne is the director of the Pan American Health Organization, a regional arm of the WHO

Of the six million people known to have died around the world from Covid-19 so far, more than 2.6 million have been in the Americas. Peru leads the world with the highest number of known deaths per 100,000 people over the course of the pandemic.

“This is a tragedy of enormous proportions, and its effects will be felt for years to come,” Dr. Etienne said.

She noted that more than 148 million people in the region, which includes the United States, had contracted the virus in the two years since the WHO officially declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and that many of them are likely to face long- term effects on their health.

Overall, new case reports and deaths are declining in the Americas, as they are globally, though Dr. Etienne noted that new cases were still rising in the Caribbean. A decrease in testing may be masking the true prevalence of the virus in the Americas, she said.

Dr. Etienne countries in the region should remain cautious. “We all want the pandemic to be over, but optimism alone cannot control the virus,” she said. “It is too soon to lower our guard.”

Though some countries in the region, and many parts of the United States, have been easing public health measures recently, “I’m afraid there’s no going back to normal at this time,” Dr. Etienne said. “We need to continue with some of the measures that have proven to be effective, and in particular we need to ramp up the vaccination coverage.”

Some 248 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have yet to receive a single dose of vaccine, according to PAHO, with wide disparities in vaccination rates from country to country. Of the more than 40 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean, just 14 have managed to fully vaccinate 70 percent of their residents or more, according to PAHO data; Haiti has fully vaccinated less than 2 percent.

“We must build on lessons from the past two years to prepare for quick action if a new variant emerges, or outbreaks happen among those who remain vulnerable,” Dr. Etienne said.

Leave a Comment