A World Health Organization (WHO) expert said on Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic has not reached its peak in the Americas and the region is likely to see continued deaths in the coming weeks.
"I would characterize the situation in the Americas in general, and in Central and Latin America as still evolving and not having reached its peak yet, and likely to result in a sustained number of cases and continued deaths in the coming weeks," said Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies Program on Wednesday in a press conference in Geneva.
Ryan said that the pandemic is "intense" in the Americas in general, and "particularly intense in the Central and South America." Many countries experience "between 25 and 50 percent rise in cases over the last week," which means that the pandemic in many countries in the region "has not peaked" and that they are "still suffering sustained community transmission."
Meanwhile, Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical lead of COVID-19, WHO Health Emergencies Program, pointed out that the respiratory disease surveillance system in the Americas shows the positivity rate for those tested for influenza-like illness or severe acute respiratory illness is between 30 and 40 percent, which is outside of the active case finding for COVID-19.
"The Americas, they're in their flu season, so you will see an increase in respiratory diseases which will complicate the ability to care for them, because you may not know if somebody has influenza or if they have COVID-19, and so that will make the picture even more difficult to understand," she added.
"So we would really stress to governments in the Americas that there needs to be an all-government approach, there needs to be very clear communication with citizens around the measures that have to be taken for self-protection, for community response, there needs to be a very sustained investment in public health infrastructure, and the capacity to isolate our tests and trace an isolation and capacity to quarantine contacts," Ryan stressed.
"It is very difficult to take the sting out of this pandemic or out of this epidemic in the country unless you're able to successfully isolate cases and quarantine contacts. In the absence of a capacity to do that, then the specter of further lockdowns cannot be excluded," he said.
"And really I don't think anybody wants to go back to population-wide, society-wide lockdowns but the only way in some circumstances to avoid that now is a very, very, very aggressive investment in our capacity to detect cases, confirm cases, quarantine contacts, and keep our communities on board and willing, able, without coercion, to support clear messaging and clear instructions and requests from government in a trusting environment. I can't stress that enough," he added.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at Wednesday's press briefing that the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide is expected to reach 10 million within the next week. So far, more than 9.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 470,000 deaths have been reported to WHO.