While the spread of new coronavirus cases is steady or slowing in many parts of the world, it is accelerating in the Western Hemisphere, where there was a 20 percent increase in new cases reported in the past week, the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.
North America, where new cases have increased by a third, is the main driver of this trend.
New cases doubled in Canada’s Alberta province, “where hospitals are facing severe staff shortages,” said Dr. Carissa F. Etienne said at a news conference. And with the United States reaching levels not seen since January, Dr. Etienne said, “hospital capacity is worryingly low in many southern US states.”
Several Central American countries are also experiencing increased infections, including Costa Rica, Guatemala and Belize. The spread of the virus has slowed somewhat in the Caribbean, but there are exceptions, including in Jamaica, where new case reports are at the highest in the epidemic.
In contrast, in much of South America, which was hit hard at the start of the year, reports of new infections and COVID-19 deaths are declining. Experts from the organization aren’t sure why, though they dismissed speculation that a drop in testing may be responsible.
“It is important to note that this decline in South America is not an effect of laboratory testing,” said PAHO’s event manager for Covid-19, Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri said. “Laboratory vigilance has been maintained.”
Dr. Aldighieri said several factors may be at work in South America, including strict social distancing measures and reduced mobility in some countries. Change of season may also play a role, he said, adding that “the epidemiological curves for influenza between 2014 and 2019 are similar to those of COVID-19 in South America between 2020 and 2021.”
Although the highly contagious Delta variant is becoming prominent in the Caribbean, it has yet to make significant inroads into South America, Dr. Aldighieri said.
WHO officials called on national governments to pay more attention to how the pandemic affects children directly and indirectly.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, the virus was having an adverse effect on our elderly,” Dr. Etienne said, “and as a result, many children and young people still don’t think they are at risk. We have to change that.”
The pressure the pandemic has put on health services has also meant that many young people are not getting services, including annual check-ups, routine vaccinations and reproductive health services. It is helping to fuel “one of the biggest leaps in teen pregnancy we’ve seen in more than a decade,” Dr. Etienne said.
And the closure of schools due to the pandemic “has created the worst educational crisis we have ever faced in the region,” she said.