Thursday, May 26, 2022

Latin America and Asia last hit by Omicron surge

In Costa Rica, officials are urging those infected with the coronavirus not to vote in the upcoming national elections. On the other side of the world, Beijing is shutting down residential areas as the country looks forward to the start of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 4.

In Latin America and Asia, where the omicron variant has been emerging recently, some countries are introducing such restrictions, while others are unwilling to impose new restrictions on populations already depleted by previous restrictions.

Omicron has quickly spread to places where it first appeared, such as South Africa, the UK and the US, pushing the number of daily infections far higher than ever during the pandemic.

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The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday that the Americas saw almost 7.2 million new COVID-19 infections and more than 15,000 COVID-related deaths over the past week. Coronavirus cases in the Americas almost doubled from 3.4 million cases to 6.1 million between January 1 and 8, according to PAHO.

Infections are accelerating in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru, and hospitalizations are rising in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, PAHO director Carissa Etienne said. Etienne noted that the Caribbean is seeing the sharpest increase in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

“While omicron infections appear to be milder, we continue to urge caution as the virus spreads more rapidly than ever before,” Etienne said.

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Infections are also on the rise in Asia, including the Philippines, which has seen its worst coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks.

Women wearing face masks with the slogan of the Beijing Winter Olympics take a selfie with the decoration of the Winter Olympics in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on January 20, 2022.

Countries in both regions are looking for a combination of restrictions that their emaciated populations will accept without undue damage to their economies.

“We have already had three years of a pandemic and the population is tired,” said Carlos Lula, President of the Brazilian Council of State Secretariats of Health. “There is no place for many restrictions. We will have to face a third wave with precautions such as wearing masks, distancing and vaccinations.”

Argentina and Mexico have also largely ruled out imposing any national restrictions, relying instead on their vaccination campaigns and the apparently less severe symptoms of the omicron variant.

Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, fresh out of a week of lockdown after his second coronavirus infection in over a year, downplayed the threat. “It is provable that this option is not as severe as the previous one, delta,” López Obrador said this week.

Antonio Perez, 67, owns a small market shop in Mexico City that sells notebooks, pens and other school supplies. He was forced to close his store for three months due to the pandemic, which shook his financial situation. But he agreed with the government’s decision then – at a time when little was known about the spread of the virus and no one was vaccinated – and with a hands-off approach now that most of the population is vaccinated and there is less pressure on hospitals.

Immunization, masks and social distancing is what is needed now,” he said, speaking through his own N95 mask. “I don’t think you can do anything else.”

A healthcare worker injects the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a community health center in Brasilia, Brazil on January 16, 2022.

A healthcare worker injects the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a community health center in Brasilia, Brazil on January 16, 2022.

Some Brazilian states have reintroduced restrictions, but have not closed businesses, as they did last year. However, Peru has reinstated a nationwide curfew, and Ecuador has banned public and private events or mass gatherings of any kind.

In Costa Rica, public health concerns run counter to constitutional guarantees for the February 6 presidential and congressional elections. The authorities admit they can’t stop people from voting, but Yevgenia Zamora, chairwoman of the High Electoral Tribunal, recently told news outlets that those who test positive for the coronavirus should “refrain” from voting.

Demographer Luis Rosero said he predicted a new wave of infections could peak just in time for Election Day. Under current health protocols, those who test positive in Costa Rica are required to self-isolate.

The daily number of confirmed infections in Costa Rica has increased from less than 100 in December to more than 5,000 this month. However, the government has so far imposed several restrictions, such as requiring football clubs to play without fans.

Two other Central American countries, Panama and Honduras, have not imposed any restrictions despite cases more than doubling in the last week.

Puerto Rico, one of the hardest-hit destinations in the Caribbean amid the current surge in the region, tightened restrictions again this month after the U.S. territory’s COVID-19 test positivity rate jumped from 5% at the end of last year to over than 40% in recent weeks. .

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has required those working in health, nutrition, education, tourism and entertainment to receive additional vaccinations, as well as public school students aged 12 and over. He also reinstated the ban on the sale of alcohol from midnight to 5 am and closed most businesses during those hours.

In Chile, the number of infections has risen by 151% in one week, but the only restriction the government has put in place so far is a reduction in the capacity limit for public places. The country has a high vaccination rate, with over 92% of those aged 18 and over and 78% of minors receiving two doses. This month, the government began offering a fourth dose.

However, in some South American countries, omicron has a terrible impact.

A major hospital in Bolivia’s largest city stopped accepting new patients due to lack of staff, and one of Brazil’s most populous states canceled elective surgeries for a month. The Argentine Federation of Private Health Providers estimates that about 15% of its workers are currently infected with the virus.

People line up to be tested for COVID-19 in the Benito Juarez neighborhood of Mexico City on January 15, 2022.

People line up to be tested for COVID-19 in the Benito Juarez neighborhood of Mexico City on January 15, 2022.

In Asia, South Korea has actually loosened restrictions on gatherings a bit this week. But officials have expressed concern about a spike in infections around the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins at the end of the month, when millions of people typically travel across the country to meet relatives.

In China, Beijing moved classes online and locked down some office buildings. Japan, meanwhile, maintains strict border controls due to a rise in infections, but otherwise does little more than cut restaurant and bar hours.

Hong Kong authorities have banned indoor dining after 6 p.m. and have ordered some businesses such as museums and gyms to close until at least early February. The city is also culling small animals, including hamsters and chinchillas, and halting imports and sales after several hamsters tested positive for coronavirus at a pet store.

In the Philippines, officials this week began barring passengers who have not been fully vaccinated from using public transportation in Greater Manila, a region of more than 13 million people. The move sparked protests from human rights organizations. Daily confirmed infections have risen from a few hundred last month to more than 30,000 in recent days.

Roman Catholic leaders in the Philippine capital have been forced to cancel the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old black statue of Jesus, on Jan. 9 for a second year. Because the event is one of Asia’s largest religious celebrations, attracting millions of mostly barefoot pilgrims, officials feared it could become a super-spread event during the micron surge.

Warning that sometimes a weaker variant of omicron can still kill, President Rodrigo Duterte urged people to get full immunizations.

“If you are vaccinated, you have a chance to win. If not, we will bury, filling up our cemeteries,” Duterte said in a televised speech.

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Nation World News Desk
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