By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) -The coronavirus is surging “dangerously” across Brazil, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for the Americas, Carissa Etienne, warned on Tuesday, urging all Brazilians to adopt preventive measures to stop the spread.
“Unfortunately, the dire situation in Brazil is also affecting neighboring countries,” Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said in a briefing.
COVID-19 cases have risen in Venezuela’s Bolivar and Amazonas states, and in border regions of Peru and Bolivia, she said.
The virus variant first discovered in Brazil known as P1, which experts say is more contagious than the original coronavirus strain, has now been detected in 15 countries in the Americas and become a major cause for concern, PAHO incident manager Sylvain Aldighieri said.
In the Southern Cone, COVID-19 cases continue to spike in Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, according to PAHO.
In Paraguay, a majority of intensive care unit (ICU) beds are occupied, and the health system is buckling under the pressure. Uruguay has reported more than 1,000 cases per day several times in the past few weeks, an alarming number given the size of the country.
In Central America, cases have declined in Panama, but the rise in hospitalizations in Guatemala is straining ICU bed capacity.
The COVAX facility led by WHO and the Gavi coalition to provide equitable access to vaccines has delivered 2,161,800 doses to the region so far, including more than 1 million doses to Brazil last weekend.
PAHO expects over 100,000 vaccine doses to be delivered this week to El Salvador, Belize and Suriname, and 1.2 million additional doses have already been procured.
“Vaccines are coming but they are still several months away for most people in our region,” Etienne said.
According to a Reuters tally, Latin America and the Caribbean have recorded around 23.7 million coronavirus cases so far, and 746,000 related deaths, almost double the toll of Asia and Africa combined.
Brazil alone has had more than 295,000 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 12 million cases of the virus.
(Reporting by Anthony BoadleEditing by Bill Berkrot)