Falling coronavirus infection rates in Latin America have led governments across the region to lift restrictions on mass gatherings, travel requirements and mask mandates that have been in place for two years.
Colombians will soon go to the cinema without having to wear face masks. Chile is opening its borders next week for the first time in two years. The Mexican President has declared the end of the pandemic. And in Rio de Janeiro, tens of thousands of people attended carnival parades just two months after the world-famous spectacle was postponed to prevent COVID-19 infections.
Even as coronavirus cases rise halfway around the world in China and authorities impose new lockdowns there, plummeting infection rates in Latin America are forcing countries to lift restrictions on mass gatherings, to lift some travel requirements and remove mask mandates that have been in place for two years.
The region has been hit hard by the pandemic, with countries like Brazil and Peru recording some of the highest death rates in the world. But cases and deaths have fallen this month in most places to levels resembling levels last seen in the first two months of the pandemic.
Some epidemiologists believe that vaccination campaigns and months of exposure to different strains of the virus have helped people in the region resist new waves of contagion.
“What we seem to be seeing is that even though the virus is still circulating, many people are not getting sick or showing symptoms,” said Fernando de la Hoz, professor of epidemiology at the National University of Bogota, the Colombian capital.
Last year, countries in Latin America were hit by the coronavirus, with the Delta and Gamma variants – the last of which emerged in Brazil – infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands.
In June, Brazil reached 500,000 deaths and seven South American countries were among the 10 nations in the world with the highest per capita death rates.
Peru is now the only country in Latin America to still have this dubious distinction, according to data compiled by Statista, a market research platform. But even in Peru, deaths from COVID-19 have dropped dramatically, from more than 200 a day in February to around 20 at the end of April. Coronavirus intensive care units, packed a year ago, were only at 11% capacity at the start of this month according to the health ministry.
The BA.2 variant of the virus, which spread rapidly across China, the United States and some European countries in March, has so far had no significant impact in most of the region. .
In Colombia, cases have fallen from 35,000 a day in mid-January, when the omicron variant peaked, to around 250 a day. Daily deaths are in the single digits, and as of the first week of April, only 177 intensive care beds out of a total of 10,700 were occupied by coronavirus patients, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
“We don’t expect this wave from China to come here because our strategy has been different from theirs,” Martha Lucía Ospina, director of Colombia’s National Institute of Health, told La Radio. FM this month.
“They cut off contact with the outside world as they aimed for a zero Covid strategy…as we gradually opened up and applied different types of vaccines which generated an interesting mix of immunity,” Ospina said.
Most countries in the region have met the World Health Organization’s goal of immunizing 70% of their population with at least two doses.
As the number of cases and hospitalizations decrease, many restrictions on social life are also decreasing.
Brazil’s federal government revoked a 2020 measure that declared the pandemic a health emergency, and many states have relaxed mask mandates and other constraints.
Masks weren’t mandatory last weekend at the crowded Sambadrome, Rio’s carnival parade ground, which seats more than 60,000 spectators. Vaccination cards were supposed to be a condition of entry, but people had no trouble getting in without them. After being suspended in February, the celebrations have been moved to the April holidays.
The Colombian government has announced that from May 1, masks will no longer be required in shopping malls, cinemas and other large indoor venues in cities with vaccination rates of at least 70%.
Argentina lifted all travel restrictions in March, including for unvaccinated people, and Buenos Aires, the capital, no longer requires masks in any location.
In Central America, El Salvador stopped requiring them in public spaces from April 21.
Masks are also no longer mandatory in most places in Mexico, which saw daily cases jump from 40,000 in late January to 1,000 in mid-April. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said this week that the country has entered a “new stage” in which the virus will have seasonal variations.
There is at least one place where infections are rising: In Puerto Rico, cases rebounded after mask requirements and attendance caps in public places were lifted on March 10, prompting the island’s government to month to impose masks again at major events.
The island topped 3,000 cases a day this week, according to Johns Hopkins University, up from about 200 a day in the first week of March.
Iván Darío Vélez, an infectious disease specialist at the Colombian University of Antioquia, said that new mutations and epidemics could still occur in the coming months and that governments in the region may have to apply new rounds of vaccinations or take further action.
“This virus is very unpredictable,” he added. “Governments will need to closely monitor his behavior and take appropriate action.” (AP)
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Last modification: May 10, 2022