BUENOS AIRES, Argentina –
After months, confirmed COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the southernmost tip of South America. But officials in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay hope high vaccination rates mean this latest wave will not be as deadly as previous waves.
At the same time, there is concern that many are unwilling to once again take the containment measures that authorities deem necessary to ensure cases remain manageable.
Cases have been increasing steadily for weeks, largely driven by the BA.2 version of the Omicron variant. In Chile, the number of weekly confirmed cases more than doubled at the end of May compared with the beginning of the month. In Argentina, the number of cases increased by 146% during the same period, while in Uruguay, the increase was close to 200%.
While the number of positive tests is still much lower than in previous waves, experts say the increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is a reminder that the pandemic is far from over.
Argentina’s Health Minister, Carla Vizzotti, recently said that Argentina is “beginning the fourth wave of COVID-19” while in Chile, Health Minister Begona Yarza described the current moment as “the inflection point of the pandemic.” epidemic” and in Uruguay, President Luis Lacalle Pou, said he was “worried” and urged people to be “vigilant”.
The countries are part of a regional trend as cases rise across the continent.
“COVID is on the rise again in the Americas” during an online press conference last week, said Carissa Etienne, head of the Pan American Health Organization.
For many residents in the area, the sharp rise means they suddenly have to think about coronavirus all over again.
Marina Barroso, 40, said: “There were a lot of cases in my family after my birthday last week,” outside a testing center on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. “The number of cases has really skyrocketed.”
The high rise of cases has yet to lead to significant numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. Officials are arguing that vaccination rates are high in the region because more than 80 percent of the population in the three countries have received at least two doses.
Claudia Salgueira, president of the Argentine Association of Infectious Diseases (SADI), said: “We are in a very different situation than in previous waves because so much of the population is vaccinated.
In Uruguay, the number of beds in intensive care units occupied by patients has doubled, from 1.5% at the beginning of the month to slightly more than 3% in mid-May.
Julio Pontet, president of the Uruguayan Association of ICUs and head of the intensive care unit at Pasteur Hospital in Montevideo, said: “Certainly, mathematically, we doubled the number of cases but We are still talking about small numbers. “What is protecting us from serious cases is our high vaccination levels.”
Felipe Elorrieta, a mathematical epidemiologist at the University of Santiago, said in previous episodes there was a disparity between the increase in cases and the number of hospitalizations “and it is likely that the same will happen. now”. “However, the death toll will be lower now.”
Chile has the upper hand because it has the highest vaccination coverage in the region and the highest booster rate in the world with more than 80 percent of people getting at least a third dose, he said.
Chile has been able to get a large percentage of its population to receive booster shots by essentially making life very difficult for those who avoid these injections.
Starting in June, Chile will block the “migration pass” of any adult who received the first booster shot more than six months ago and has not received a second booster shot. Without a passport, Chileans are not allowed to go to restaurants, bars or attend major events.
In other countries in the region, some warn that vaccination campaigns are lacking because many people have not received boosters.
“There is a very large proportion of people who are not fully vaccinated, four million people with only one dose, 10 million people with only two doses and there is a group that is not vaccinated,” said Hugo Pizzi, an infectious disease expert. Vaccine”. is a medical school professor at Argentina’s National University of Cordoba. “There is a defiant, defiant attitude in the community that is really frustrating.”
Adriana Valladares, a 41-year-old retail worker in Buenos Aires, says an increase in cases won’t change her way of life.
“I have three doses of the drug so I feel pretty protected,” she said. “I used to be really scared about this virus but now I know a lot of people have had it and they’re fine.”
Some find that checking in is not as easy as it used to be.
“There is a huge increase in the number of cases but they are not testing anywhere,” said Jose Sabarto of Avellaneda, Buenos Aires province. Sabarto said his daughter was diagnosed with COVID and a family member wanted to get tested but had trouble finding working testing centers.
It’s important that the testing infrastructure is “maintained and strengthened,” Etienne said.
“The truth is,” she added, “this virus is not going away anytime soon.”
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