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PAHO concerned about covid19 spikes as Caribbean reopens

PAHO concerned about covid19 spikes as Caribbean reopens

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PAN American Health Organisation (PAHO) director Dr Carissa F Etienne has expressed concern about new covid19 infections as Caribbean countries reopen their borders.

Etienne, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday and quoted in a PAHO release, said while Caribbean islands have avoided major outbreaks thanks to strong political resolve and a smart mix of public health measures, “Now that non-essential air travel is resuming across the region, several countries are reporting spikes in cases.”

Two weeks ago, the Bahamas observed a 60 per cent increase compared to the previous week, while St Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, and TT (which unlike the other countries has not reopened borders) all reported a 25 per cent jump.

“This is not just driven by tourism, but also by citizens returning home after the lockdown. We know that countries that depend on tourism can’t remain closed indefinitely, but as they reopen, they must use all the resources available to reduce risk for their people,” Etienne said.

In the release PAHO asked countries to reinforce contact tracing and data management as they reopen.

PAHO also said the number of new covid19 infections reported in the Americas more than doubled from 5.3 million on July 1 to more than 12 million cases as at August 26. Etienne also noted in the past six weeks deaths in the region had doubled.

PAHO said despite the rise in cases in the Americas, countries have gradually relaxed restrictions, resumed commerce and some are gearing up to head back to school.

“In far too many places, there seems to be a disconnect between the policies being implemented and what the epidemiological curves tell us.

“This is not a good sign. Wishing the virus away will not work; it will only lead to more cases, as we’ve seen over these past six weeks,” Etienne said.

“We have good tools today: data that show where the hot spots are, contact tracing protocols to slow onward transmission, and public health measures that can reduce the risk of exposure. We’ll have even better tools in the future: improved tests, more effective treatments and even vaccines. National and local governments need to be strategic about how they use these tools – old and new – to achieve the desired impact.”

Etienne said primary health care should be at the centre of the response, namely identifying cases, acting to contain transmission and providing timely care in the community.

“We can’t stop all transmission, but if countries stay vigilant and expand testing and surveillance, they can better identify spikes in cases and act quickly to contain them before they spread out of control.”

PAHO reported data from all over the Americas showed the majority of cases are reported in people between 20 and 59, but almost 70 per cent of deaths reported are in people over 60.

“This indicates that younger people are primarily driving the spread of the disease in our region. Many young people who contract the virus may not become ill or require an ICU bed, but they can spread it to others who will.

“This is a stark reminder that defeating covid19 is a shared responsibility – not only among countries and regions, but between people, neighbours and communities,” Etienne added.

“If you don’t take the right steps to keep yourself safe, you’re putting others in danger,” she warned.

Etienne also stressed the virus will be around for a while.

“Without a vaccine, it’s going to be with us for years. This will not be a fight we win once – but one that will go several rounds. That’s why we need to apply lessons from places that have controlled the virus and let data guide our actions.”

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