By Anthony Boadle
COVID-19 infections continue to spread fast across the Americas as a result of relaxed prevention measures and intensive care units are filling up with younger people, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.
In Brazil, mortality rates have doubled among those younger than 39, quadrupled among those in their 40s and tripled for those in their 50s since December, Carissa Etienne said.
Hospitalization rates among those under 39 years have increased by more than 70% in Chile and in some areas of the United States more people in their 20s are now being hospitalized for COVID-19 than people in their 70s.
“Despite all we learned about this virus in a year, our control efforts are not as strict, and prevention is not as efficient,” Etienne said in a virtual briefing from Washington.
“We are seeing what happens when these measures are relaxed: COVID spreads, cases mount, our health systems become overwhelmed and people die,” she said.
Canada continues to report significant jumps in infections in highly populated provinces such as Ontario as well as in less populated territories of the North and Yukon, home to remote and indigenous communities, according to PAHO.
Puerto Rico and Cuba remain significant drivers of COVID-19 cases in the Caribbean, which is facing a new surge of the virus, PAHO directors said.
Cases are rapidly accelerating in the Guyanas and across Argentina and Colombia, where weekly case counts are five times higher today than they were this time last year and hospitals are reaching capacity in large Colombian cities.
In Central America, Guatemala is seeing significant spikes in cases and Costa Rica is reporting record-high infections.
While vaccines are being rolled out as fast as possible, they are not a short-term solution because they are in short supply, said Etienne, the World Health Organization’s regional director.