“Now is not the time for countries to ease restrictions,” Carissa Etienne, WHO director for the Americas and head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said via videoconference.
The Americas have registered more than 2.4 million cases of the new coronavirus and more than 143,000 deaths from the resulting Covid-19 respiratory disease. Latin America has passed Europe and the United States in daily infections, she said.
“Our region has become the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Etienne said, as other PAHO directors warned there are “very tough” weeks ahead for the region and Brazil has a long way to go before it will see the pandemic end.
Also of concern to WHO officials are accelerating outbreaks in Peru, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Global deaths from coronavirus surpassed 350,000 on Wednesday. The number of confirmed cases was more than 5.58 million. The US, the worst-hit nation, was approaching 100,000 deaths.
A University of Washington study warned that Brazil’s total death toll could rise five-fold – to 125,000 – by early August.
The forecast from the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) came with a call for lockdowns that Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has resisted.
The current data projects Covid-19 deaths in Peru totalling nearly 20,000 by August, IHME said, indicating demand is likely to outstrip of the supply of beds in intensive care units.
The latest IHME model projections see deaths rising to nearly 12,000 in Chile, 7,000 in Mexico, 6,000 in Ecuador, 5,500 in Argentina and to 4,500 in Colombia by August.
One country in the region doing relatively well against Covid-19 is Cuba, where the IHME forecasts a death toll of just 82 by August while testing continues to outpace the outbreak.
In other coronavirus developments:
- Germany has extended social distancing rules aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus epidemic to 29 June, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said on Tuesday.
- New Zealand has reported a fifth consecutive day of no new cases of Covid-19 recorded in the country.
- Japan’s football league launched a “remote cheering’ app to boost the atmosphere at empty stadiums as teams prepared to resume play. Fans’ voices will reverberate around the ground in real time via loudspeakers.
- In South Korea, a man has been jailed for four months for breaking quarantine rules in the country’s first such prison sentence. The country reported 40 new cases on Wednesday, its biggest daily jump in nearly 50 days, causing alarm on the day when millions of children were returning to school.
- In Britain, PM Boris Johnson is under growing pressure to fire his adviser Dominic Cummings over a breach of lockdown rules.
- In Spain, the government declared 10 days of mourning starting on Wednesday.
- Australia recorded its youngest victim, a 30-year-old man.
- The Church of the Nativity and the ruins of ancient Pompeii reopened to pilgrims and tourists, as countries further eased coronavirus controls and reopened shuttered economies.
- India’s top biomedical research body backed the use of the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine as a preventive against coronavirus, after the WHO suspended clinical trials of the drug over safety concerns.
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