Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne has called on countries in the region to be on guard and close vaccination gaps as a matter of urgency, as Europe and East Asia face an increase in cases of COVID-19 with the Omicron BA.2 variant.
The official warned of the high number of new cases reported each week in European and East Asian countries. New infections are increasing in certain parts of North America and the Caribbean, where the Omicron variant is proving to be dominant, she also said.
Etienne said Wednesday that on several occasions, it has been seen how the dynamics of infection in Europe are reflected shortly after that in the Americas, noting that Omicron BA.2 has already been detected in 8.7% of the reported sequences from South America.
The director alerted about the 240 million people in the Americas who have not yet received a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, stating that the region will remain at risk during future waves because of these gaps in vaccination. "We cannot ignore the risk of further COVID-19 surges, but we now know what it takes to protect our people", Etienne said.
She also called for a redoubling of efforts to guarantee the completion of COVID-19 vaccination programs for vulnerable populations. The official said that more than 685 million people in the region had completed their vaccination schedules, adding that booster doses have already begun to be delivered in 50 countries and territories.
#BREAKINGNEWS: The Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, has cautioned that the Omicron BA.2 variant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading throughout the region and the number of cases are rising once again. pic.twitter.com/JYdIet64cW— CaribbeanNewsNetwork (@caribbeannewsuk) April 6, 2022
The director said that countries must maintain their testing capacity in place to ensure not to enter this next wave unknowingly and to have the complete picture of Omicron BA.2 in the region. She added that tests need to be readily accessible to everyone to forestall further outbreaks and equip health systems in the event of an increase in cases.
Etienne also warned that public health measures had been relaxed too soon in some countries and territories, stressing the need for additional vigilance concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. "Just as we did before, we must adjust our strategies when cases rise to save lives," she said.
Etienne referred to the rising temperatures, atmospheric pollution, and extreme weather events that have undoubtedly affected the health systems of the Americas. The director said that health systems are also threatened because many hospitals were built in places vulnerable to floods, hurricanes, landslides, and other extreme phenomena. Efforts are being made in this regard, but more rapid progress is needed, she said.
The official said that countries worldwide must make joint efforts to ensure a healthier and more sustainable future. She said that World Health Day would be celebrated on April 7 under the theme "Our Planet, Our Health."