Fri | Feb 26, 2021

‘2021 could be far worse than 2020’ - PAHO director urges vigilance as region sees record cases

Published:Thursday | January 14, 2021 | 12:20 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne.
PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne.

Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, has said that in the last week, roughly 2.5 million people were infected with COVID-19 in the region, the highest weekly cases since the onset of the pandemic.

“Virtually every country in the Americas is seeing an acceleration in the virus’ spread,” she said during PAHO’s first COVID-19 press briefing for 2021.

“The public health measures that we’ve been urging from the start, such as practising social distancing, wearing masks in public, and washing hands often, remain our very best bet to help control this virus right now in all of its forms,” she said.

Etienne shared that although one vaccine has been approved for use by the World Health Organization (WHO) and more are being developed, countries cannot rely on vaccinations alone to flatten the curve as long as doses remain limited.

“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,” the director warned.

Going forward, she said there are three priorities that are critical to controlling the pandemic.

First, governments must ensure equitable access to the tools, both new and old, to prevent and treat COVID-19.

“This is especially challenging as cases surge and supply chains are strained. With the arrival of vaccines, we must ensure not just that doses are produced quickly, but that they are equitably delivered and swiftly across countries, regardless of income,” she explained.

Second, she said leaders must act quickly and foster unity as they act in the interest of public health and not for political gain.

Third, governments should spend time developing a delivery plan as they await the arrival of the vaccine in their respective countries.

Meanwhile, PAHO’s incident manager for COVID-19, Dr Sylvain Aldighieri, said that at present, the WHO is not recommending proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a tool for introducing changes to the way people engage in travel or non-essential occupational activities.

“There is a lack of evidence on whether vaccination would reduce the risk of transmissions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Therefore, the introduction of requirements for a vaccine passport is not justifiable. It would fuel a false sense of security and, ultimately, it would have the potential to trigger the relaxation and adherence to the personal protective measures and social distancing,” he said.