The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) noted on Wednesday the “limited impact” of pre-travel coronavirus tests to control the spread of COVID-19 and called on countries to restrict the movement of people with symptoms or recent exposure.
PAHO Director Carissa Etienne warned that the region has begun to resume social and public activities even though the pandemic still requires “important measures” to prevent the proliferation of infections. She also highlighted the risks of a premature opening.
The American continent is the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic that emerged in China in December.
“The Americas reached two somber milestones: over half a million deaths and nearly 15 million cases reported in our region,” Etienne told a press conference, noting that large populations remain vulnerable.
Although she considered the reopening inevitable in economic, educational and commercial terms, she focused on two issues that the region is currently grappling with: the restart of travel, especially in countries dependent on tourism, and the holding of elections.
“When people travel between countries, so does the virus,” Etienne said.
In the Caribbean, countries like Jamaica, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic have experienced “dramatic spikes” in cases in some areas. This rise as tourism activity resumed offers an “important lesson,” he said.
In that sense, she dismissed the effectiveness of some travel measures.
“I want to emphasize that relying on laboratory tests for travelers is expensive, hard to implement, and of limited impact in controlling the international spread of the virus,” she said.
Etienne insisted on the need for the authorities to ensure that people sick with Covid-19, or suspected of being infected, be quickly identified and isolated and their contacts traced, to minimize the chances of contagion.
“All countries should work collectively to limit the travel of those who have active symptoms or have recently been exposed,” emphasized the head of PAHO, the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Voting without getting sick
Etienne also said that several countries in the region face the challenge of guaranteeing a right to vote without sacrificing citizen health.
And she called for “careful planning” on the part of the authorities with a view to the elections scheduled over the next few months in Bolivia, Brazil, the United States and Chile.
“Governments must lead national efforts to ensure that public health measures are in place for voting in person and that citizens are aware of how to keep their safety and that of others at the polls,” she said.
She also recalled that some countries are complementing traditional electoral methods with voting by mail and digital technologies.
Under pressure to restart activities after months of confinement and restrictions on movement, Etienne urged governments to make decisions based on data, stressing that a safe and effective vaccine that can be manufactured and administered on a large scale may not be imminent.
“Make no mistake: if health systems are not ready, this is not the time to reopen. If they did, they would risk a handful of cases in one area turning into a widespread outbreak,” she warned.
Although in the last two weeks there has been a reduction in the reporting of cases in the United States, the country hit hardest by Covid-19, there are still areas that register daily increases.
In addition to the rise in infections in the Caribbean, the increase in cases in areas of Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina stand out.
And she said that death rates have risen in some areas of Mexico, with similar trends in areas of Ecuador, Costa Rica and Bolivia.