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Latin America and the Caribbean exceeded 25 million registered coronavirus cases on Friday as countries imposed travel and movement restrictions due to the surge in infections while vaccination campaigns caught up.
An AFP tally showed that the region has hit the grim milestone of 25,001,533 infections, ranking third after Europe with 44.2 million cases and after the US and Canada with over 31.5 million cases.
The death toll in Latin America and the Caribbean was over 788,000, according to AFP, second only to Europe, which lost around 936,000 people in the pandemic.
Infection rates in South America have skyrocketed in recent months, likely due to a seemingly more contagious variant known as P1, which was first detected in the continent’s largest country, Brazil, and has since been found in several other countries.
“We’re finding that the P1 variant appears to be more transmissible,” said Sylvain Aldighieri, an official with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), this week.
Brazil is at the epicenter of the latest wave of epidemics in the region, reporting a staggering 66,500 COVID-19 deaths and more than 325,000 overall in March alone.
Mexico follows with more than 294,000 deaths. According to recent government data, the numbers are well above the official death toll of around 203,000.
As hospitals and intensive care units fill up, governments have announced a series of restrictions to curb human-to-human transmission in the region of 34 countries and territories and around 600 million people.
Chile closed all borders on Thursday, Bolivia sealed its border with Brazil for a week, and Peru closed itself at Easter.
Peru opted for a national lockdown for four days over the Easter weekend and has banned all flights from Brazil, the UK and South Africa in an attempt to keep virus variants out of there.
Ecuador’s president has also announced new curbs against an outbreak he described as a “public calamity”.
And as hospital occupancy remained high, the city of Rio de Janeiro extended on Friday the partial home stay orders that came into force two weeks ago and were due to expire on Sunday.
Patchy vaccine rollout
Even tiny Uruguay, one of nine countries that share a border with Brazil, has seen a surge in infections and deaths after being viewed as the flagship of infection control for most of the epidemic that began in December 2019.
On Thursday it posted a record 35 deaths a day, killing more than 1,000 people.
The 3.5 million country identified the P1 variant on its territory, and 80 percent of all deaths occurred in the first three months of 2021 – 400 of them in March alone.
Immunization progress in the region has been uneven and worrying. In Brazil, only about eight percent of the 212 million population received a first dose, and both 2.3 percent.
Observers attribute the slow pace to President Jair Bolsonaro’s negative attitude, which led to delays in negotiations with the drug manufacturers.
PAHO director Carissa Etienne said this week that there are not enough vaccines in the Latin America region to stop active outbreaks and urged that focus continue to be on face masks, hand washing and social distancing.
“Without preventive measures, our region could face an even bigger recovery than the last,” she said.
“Let me be as clear as possible. My main guideline for places where transmission surges occur can be summed up in two words: stay home.”
Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac, which makes the coronavac jab used in around 20 countries including Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay, announced on Friday that it would double its annual production capacity to two billion doses.
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© 2021 AFP
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