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Don’t relax: PAHO Director keeps up warning on urgent continuing public health measures for COVID-19

Photo-credit: Photo © PAHO/WHO

Posted: Thursday, January 14, 2021. 2:25 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: “Our collective ability to keep up with these measures has the power to determine the trajectory of this year. If we remain diligent, we have the power to control this virus; if we relax, make no mistake, 2021 could well be far worse than 2020,” was the stark warning from Pan American Health Organization Director Carisa F. Etienne at a press briefing on Wednesday.

New variants and an accelerating spread of COVID-19 in the Americas, she added, make it even more critical to continue public health measures such as social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands often.

More than 39 million in the region have been infected; more than 925,000 have died, and in just the last week 2.5 million regionwide have been infected – the highest rate of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic.

Etienne says the UK variant of COVID-19 has been reported from Brazil and Ecuador to the United States, while a South African variant has been reported in Brazil and Canada.

“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that these variants affect patients differently, but early data does suggest that the virus can spread more easily, accelerating the threat to our health systems at a time in which they are already close to capacity,” Etienne said. She added that as long as doses remain limited, vaccination alone will not flatten the pandemic’s curve.

The PAHO priority list for 2021 includes ensuring equitable access to protective equipment for health workers, medications and hospital care when required, and vaccines.

Director Etienne said doses must be produced quickly, delivered equitably and swiftly with global and regional collaboration and solidarity. PAHO is lending support with vaccine demand planning, logistics, and cold chain management, surveillance and information system strengthening, health worker training, and vaccine communication planning, among others and pointed out that with the strong legacy of immunization and the pooling of national resources for cost-effective pricing, meeting the COVID-19 challenge can and will be done by working together.

In the year ahead, political leaders will face difficult choices to flatten the transmission curve. Leaders need to act transparently and proactively so that the public understands their decisions and the scientific evidence that supports them.


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