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PAHO director warns ‘no place for complacency’ in COVID fight

With the holidays approaching and vaccination rates still low in many countries, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr. Carissa Etienne urged governments to keep protective health measures in place to prevent deadly surges in new cases.

Etienne said individuals should also make responsible decisions to avoid large gatherings, particularly indoors, and continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing. 

“There is no room for complacency because we have already faced the consequences of an uncontrolled pandemic,” she said during PAHO’s weekly press briefing.

“And we don’t want to be in that position again.

“As we enter the time of year for reflection and celebration, give a gift to your friends and family by getting vaccinated when it’s your turn. If you are planning on seeing loved ones this season, keep your gatherings small to the extent possible and outdoors when you can. If you just gather inside, open your windows so air can circulate.” 

Etienne said the situation in Europe, which is seeing a new and deadly surge in cases, is a warning for what could happen in the Americas.

She said there has already been a 23 percent increase in new cases in the region in the past week. 

“Every time we lower our guard, the virus gains momentum,” Etienne said.

She added, “Throughout this pandemic, Europe has been a window to the future for the Americas.

“Time and time again, we have seen how the infection dynamics in Europe are mirrored here several weeks later.

“And over the last weeks, many European countries have reported record numbers of new cases.”

Etienne said the relaxation of public health measures has contributed directly to the issues at hand in many of those countries.

She said relaxed measures, combined with lower vaccination rates, make some countries in the Americas even more vulnerable.

“While 51 percent of people across Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there are 19 countries in our region that have not reached the WHO targets to vaccinate 40 percent of the population of every country by the end of this year and 70 percent by mid-2022,” Etienne said.

“Even though vaccination coverage is not as high as we would hope, in many densely populated areas in the Americas, preventative measures have been lifted or relaxed.

“And this is a worrisome combination that keeps us vulnerable to the virus and threatens our hard-fought gains.

“With the approaching holidays and upcoming summer vacations in the southern hemisphere, I wish to take a moment to remind everyone that our individual and collective decisions chart the path of this pandemic.

“We have been here before. Our region witnessed a large jump in cases following last year’s holiday season. And it took months for countries to reduce the incidence of new cases.”

As of November 20, 143,434 people in The Bahamas were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, representing roughly 37 percent of the population.

Etienne urged the public to get vaccinated and be responsible.

“The decisions that we take over the next few months will determine the course of the next year,” she said.

“It is really up to all of us to make smart and safe choices this holiday season so we can protect ourselves and each other from the virus.”

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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