By John Revill and Stephanie Nebehay
ZURICH/GENEVA (Reuters) – The Americas are bearing the brunt of the global coronavirus pandemic at present, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, with North and South America currently having four of the 10 worst hit countries in the world.
The disease was “highly active” in Central and South America, the WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan said, highlighting problems in Brazil and Mexico.
The current situation in Brazil, now one of the global hot-spots for the virus, was of increasing concern especially in heavily-populated cities, he told a press conference.
The country’s health system was “still coping”, although some intensive care units were at a critical stage and under heavy pressure with more than 90% bed occupancy rates, Ryan said.
Mexico meanwhile has nearly 130,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 15,000 deaths, the WHO said.
Brazil is the second worst hit country in the world, with more than 800,000 cases and 41,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
Both countries lag behind the United States, the worst hit country, which has had more than 2 million cases and nearly 114,000 deaths.
“We are very much in the upswing of this pandemic, particularly in the global South,” Ryan said. “Some countries are having trouble exiting of the so-called lockdowns as they are seeing an increase in cases.”
It was possible the disease was spreading again as societies reopened and people began meeting again, especially when there was inadequate testing and social distancing was insufficient.
Still, he acknowledged the pressures on countries to get back to normal especially to reduce the economic damage the crisis has wrought.”There is a careful balance between keeping people at home… and the untoward effect of that on economic and society. That is not an easy balance. There are no correct answers,” Ryan said.
Ryan said that although some countries appeared to be over the worst of the virus, clusters of the disease were still occurring.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Gheybreyesus said that vigilance was required worldwide against the “very dangerous virus” even in regions where it appeared to be on the wane.
“Our fear is although it is declining in Europe it is increasing in other parts of the world. Even Europe cannot be safe because the virus can be reintroduced to Europe,” he said.
Tedros was also firm on the need for any vaccines had to be shared fairly between countries, amid concerns some could hoard any drugs they develop.
Vaccines should be made available as a global public good, to ensure everyone had fair access to any life-saving products that are developed, Tedros said.
(Reporting by John Revill and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Toby Chopra)