The full force of Covid-19 is still yet to hit the region – and will intensify in the next few weeks with a surge in hospitalisations and deaths.
That’s the word from Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) chiefs who warned against any relaxing of social distancing measures.
Any transition to greater flexibility “should be taken with extreme caution”, said PAHO director Carissa Etienne.
“Social distancing needs to be accompanied by comprehensive social support measures to ensure the most vulnerable can comply without severe risk to their livelihoods,” she continued.
People keeping six feet apart remains the “best bet to reduce transmission and slow the spread of the virus in our communities”, Etienne explained.
Figures released on Monday revealed there were around 650,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the Americas, and more than 25,000 deaths.
Etienne said community transmission was being reported by a growing number of countries in the Caribbean, plus North, Central and South America.
Many nations have implemented community-wide social distancing measures that are allowing health services to operate within their capacity. She noted that this was encouraging but must be sustained over a period of time to be effective.
“Following a period of social distancing, any attempt to transition to more flexible measures should be taken with extreme caution. Such decisions should always be informed by disease transmission patterns, Covid-19 testing and contact tracing capacity, the availability of hospitals bed, and other objective criteria,” she warned.
Etienne said there was an urgent need to accelerate testing and expand intensive care capacity.
“We must act with urgency before the storm hits most countries, to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.”
One of the most important short-term needs is to expand the capacity of intensive care units in the region. PAHO is sharing expertise on delivery and management of intensive care with countries, using lessons learned from China, Spain, and others, she continued.
“In the long term, we need to plan now to guarantee that the drugs and vaccines that are being developed are accessible to all in our region, especially in the most vulnerable communities,” Etienne noted.
“Implementing the measures required to stop Covid-19 can be disruptive but failing to do so will risk prolonging this crisis. Interrupting recommended social distancing too early could have the opposite effect – and lead to a second wave of Covid-19 cases, extending suffering and socioeconomic uncertainty,” she said.
The PAHO director added, “Only by implementing the interventions required for each setting – guided by science and solidarity – can we slow down, and ultimately break, the spread of Covid-19 in our region. And then together, within and across our countries, we can safely get back on our feet.”