COVID-19 cases surge 23% in Americas, mostly in North America – health agency

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Vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station in Rio de Janeiro

BRASILIA -New COVID-19 cases have jumped 23% in the Americas in the last week, mostly in North America where both the United States and Canada are reporting increasing infection rates, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, warning that the region might be facing a relapse as in Europe.

Canada’s Yukon and Northwest territories saw a two- to three-fold increase in new infections over the last week, it said.

In Central America, by contrast, there has been a 37% reduction in new infections. In South America, nearly every country except Brazil, Suriname and Venezuela is reporting increasing COVID-19 incidence. The biggest jumps were in Ecuador and Paraguay, PAHO said.

Cases surged 400% in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz department after recent strikes and protests prevented people from accessing COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites, the health agency said.

“Even though cases have dropped significantly over the last few months, COVID transmission is still active across our region, so every time we lower our guard, the virus gains momentum,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said.

Etienne warned that the experience of Europe, where many countries have reported record numbers of new cases in the last few weeks, could be a window into the future for the Americas.

While 51% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there are 19 countries where vaccination coverage is below 40% of the population.

PAHO said case surges are mainly in densely populated areas where preventive measures have been lifted or relaxed.

With the approaching holiday season and summer vacations in the Southern Hemisphere, Etienne urged people to continue using masks and maintaining social distancing.

“Our region witnessed a large jump in new cases following last year’s holiday season and it took months for countries to reduce the incidence of new cases,” she said.

(Reporting by Anthony BoadleEditing by Bill Berkrot)