June 25, 2020 / 3:24 AM / 19 days ago

WHO director for Americas says 226,000 have died of COVID-19 in region

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Nearly half of all COVID-19 cases globally can be found in the Americas and the numbers continue to climb, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Americas, Carissa Etienne, said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Director of the Pan American Health Organization Carissa Etienne speaks to the media during a meeting of Public Health ministers of the Mercosur trade block in Montevideo February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo

As of June 23, there have been more than 4.5 million COVID-19 cases and 226,000 deaths reported in the Americas, she said in a virtual briefing from Washington.

In Latin America and the Caribbean alone, cases have tripled from 690,000 one month ago to 2 million.

There is now widespread transmission in Central America and in South America, as of this weekend, Brazil surpassed 1 million COVID-19 cases, joining the United States as the only other country in the world with cases in the seven digits.

Etienne said the Caribbean was faring better but with hot spots flaring on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as in an area encompassing Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.

Brazil, the worst hit nation in Latin America, has increased testing in the last few weeks but is still not doing enough, said Marcos Espinal, communicable diseases director of the WHO’s Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO).

“Brazil is still not doing 10,000 tests per million inhabitants. That needs to be increased,” he said.

While the WHO’s recommendation against non-essential travel remains in place, decisions on travel are up to each country’s government, said PAHO director of health emergencies, Ciro Ugarte.

“There is no such thing as zero risk. There is always risk. Currently, there exists no tool to decide who should be allowed to get on a plane and who should not,” he said.

Etienne said the region must be realistic and adjust to a new way of life with COVID-19.

“In the absence of effective treatments or a widely available vaccine, we expect that over the next two years in the Americas we will experience recurring COVID-19 outbreaks, which may be interspersed with periods of limited transmission,” she said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia and Adriana Barrera in Mexico City; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown

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