New coronavirus cases and deaths in the Americas have reached the lowest levels in more than a year, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said, but access to COVID-19 vaccines, remains a challenge.
PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa on Wednesday said the Americas reported more than 800,000 new infections and 18,000 deaths during the past seven days – a drastic decrease from previous weeks.
“We have reason to be optimistic, but we must remain vigilant,” Barbosa said during a regular virtual news briefing.
Many of the Caribbean islands are seeing decreases in new infections, Barbosa said, including Cuba, a nation that had for months been battling an intense outbreak of the disease.
The downward trend in COVID-19 infections comes amid advances in vaccination campaigns across the region. But, PAHO officials said, gaps remain and many countries especially, those with low vaccination rates, remain at risk of more outbreaks.
Smaller islands, such as Saint Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, Anguilla and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are reaching their first pandemic peaks and are reporting their highest numbers of new infections and deaths.© Provided by Al Jazeera Vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine movements, fueled by misinformation, are also a persistent challenge in the region. This banner in a protest in Bogota, Colombia, reads, ‘No vaccine’ [Nathalia Angarita/Reuters]
That is why, Barbosa warned, it remains critical that countries continue to implement public health measures, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and limiting large gatherings.
Meanwhile, nearly 44 percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean are fully vaccinated, PAHO said.
But with more than half of the region still unprotected, vaccine inequity remains one of the biggest challenges, Barbosa said.
Chile, Uruguay and Canada have made major headway in their vaccination campaigns, and have fully protected three-quarters of their population against the disease. Meanwhile, Guatemala, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Haiti have inoculated less than 20 percent of their populations, he said.
Barbosa said more than one million doses are expected to arrive in the region this week as part of the COVAX vaccine sharing programme, with more vaccine deliveries expected to arrive through the end of the year.
But many more doses are urgently needed to protect more people in the region from the disease.
Barbosa appealed to leaders of the G20 who are meeting in Rome for a summit during the weekend, urging them for additional vaccine donations. He added that no country is truly safe from further spread of the virus, while others are still unprotected.
He also said public health is taking centre stage at the COP26, this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference summit. The conference is scheduled to begin on Sunday in Scotland’s capital, Glasgow.
Barbosa said climate and public health are interlinked. And more than 12 million people die every from diseases associated with environmental risk factors, he said.
“Ahead of the Summit, PAHO has launched an Agenda for the Americas on Health, Environment, and Climate Change that offers countries a plan of action to reduce the burden of environmental risks on the health of our region,” Barbosa said.
By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) - COVID-19 is slowly retreating across most of North, Central and South America, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, reporting that last week the continent's death and infection figures were the lowest in over a year.
Many of the larger Caribbean islands are seeing downward trends, including Cuba, the site of a major months-long COVID-19 outbreak.
However, Paraguay saw a doubling of coronavirus cases in the last week and Belize a sharp jump in COVID-related deaths, the regional branch of the World Health Organization said in a briefing.
"We have reason to be optimistic, but we must remain vigilant," PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa said.
Video: CDC Director: 'Any one of these vaccines can really be used to boost any one of the others' (NBC News)
CDC Director: 'Any one of these vaccines can really be used to boost any one of the others'
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He urged authorities to continue to implement public health measures like mask-wearing, social distancing and limiting large gatherings, especially as many countries are still struggling to expand vaccine coverage.
Nearly 44% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have completed their COVID-19 immunizations, thanks largely to donations, made bilaterally or through the WHO-led COVAX facility.
Over 3 million more doses will arrive in the region through COVAX this week, as deliveries pick up in the final months of the year, Barbosa said.
He appealed to leaders of the G20 major economies meeting this weekend in Rome to do more to hasten equitable distribution of vaccines through donations, saying no country would be safe while others were still unprotected against the coronavirus.
Barbosa said health was taking center stage at the COP26 climate summit that starts on Sunday in Glasgow.
Around the world, more than 12 million deaths every year are associated with environmental risk factors, including high temperatures, air pollution, wildfires and droughts, according to PAHO.
"Left unaddressed, climate change would transform our environment, our food systems and living conditions, with potentially devastating consequences for our health," he said.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Jonathan Oatis and John Stonestreet)
For example, legal pathways tend to take pressure off irregular migration by giving people alternatives they can aspire to, a key starting principle. The United States, Mexico and Canada have been jointly trying to expand short-term labor visas for Central Americans to give them another option besides irregular migration. The Cuban parole program also did this by allowing a certain number of Cubans to travel legally to the United States each year.
The U.S. government might also think about opening up a special parole program — an express legal entry — for a limited number of Haitians who want to move to the United States and reopening the one for Cubans, which has been suspended in practice for four years. If some Haitians living in Chile and Brazil were eligible for entry into the United States under this approach, many would decide to avoid a dangerous journey through the Darién Gap.
Such a program would also make it easier for the U.S. government to negotiate the return of Haitian migrants who reach the border to these countries, where many have lived for years, instead of to Haiti. This is another useful principle: the idea of returning people to countries where they have been settled for many years, rather than back to countries of origin that are in deep crisis.
Another principle might be burden sharing. The United States and Canada have already been trying to expand their resettlement efforts for imperiled Central Americans. Speeding up this process and extending it to Venezuelans and others would provide another important alternative to irregular migration for those in imminent danger.
Meanwhile, U.S. policymakers could also do much more to help countries in the region get back to economic health, starting by donating far more Covid-19 vaccines. And the international community can provide additional resources to host countries with large migrant and refugee populations so they can accelerate access to legal status, education and health care, all of which remain major issues in integrating recent arrivals.
By working together, the countries in the region could begin to create more orderly and far safer migration flows, and provide a measure of hope as a bulwark against the despair that so often drives people to take dangerous journeys.
Andrew Selee is the president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that seeks to improve migration policies, and the author, most recently, of “Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together.”
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