Covid cases are surging again in Latin America and the U.S., WHO officials warn

People hold their arms after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as part of a government plan to vaccinate Mexican border residents on the common border with the United States in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. June 2021.

Jorge Duenes | Reuters

Covid infections are rapidly picking up again in the United States 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 of infection also exacerbate instability and violence in several Latin American and Caribbean countries, officials said, noting political upheaval in Haiti, Cuba and other nations as the Delta variant takes hold in America.

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

Central American and Caribbean countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Cuba and the Virgin Islands are also seeing an increase in new infections.

Thousands of protesters in Cuba took to the streets this week over frustrations over a troubled economy hit by food and electricity shortages. The rare protests, the largest the communist country has seen since the 1990s, come as the government struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic and marginalize the island’s fragile health system.

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

The seven-day average of new cases in Cuba has more than quadrupled in the last month to 5,659 in the past seven days from an average of 1,256 per day in mid-June, according to analysis of data from CNBC compiled by Johns Hopkins University . The number of deaths in the small island nation has also increased from around 10 a day a month ago to around 32, the data shows.

Overall, deaths and hospital admissions in South America have decreased in recent weeks. However, as cases pick up again, officials expect hospitalizations and deaths, often delayed by a few weeks, could soon follow.

The cases in Argentina and Colombia are at record highs as new infections surpass the level at the beginning of the pandemic, according to Etienne. Neighboring countries like Honduras and Guatemala haven’t secured enough vaccine doses to immunize even 1% of their population, which could be disastrous if increasing infections spill over from nearby countries, she said.

Colombia, along with Brazil, Cuba and Haiti, are experiencing situations where political unrest and waves of protests make it even more difficult for health workers and residents to access life-saving resources and maintain public notices promoting vaccinations.

“Increasing violence, instability and overcrowded accommodation could become active hotspots for the transmission of Covid,” said Etienne. “Limited care and violence also hamper the ability of health workers to safely care for patients in need. In some cases, patients may avoid doing so for safety concerns.”

PAHO officials are working to bring vaccines to Haiti, where the island has not yet started vaccinating its residents, despite having received 760,000 doses of the vaccines from AstraZeneca through the COVAX Facility, a WHO-supported distribution initiative of doses to low-income countries in low-income countries of the world, according to the Washington Post. Violence broke out there following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise last week.

PAHO also cautioned countries reopening their economies too early, warning that countries that have successfully deterred early waves of infection are ignoring normally necessary public health measures such as masks and social distancing and opening up to a renewed surge in cases of variant who can bypass the vaccine protection.

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

– CNBC’s Amanda Macias contributed to this article.

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