Latin America ‘pushed to the limit’ as COVID-19 cases, deaths surge

For some countries, the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak has peaked and passed, restrictions are easing and they are now transitioning back into work.

But for others, experts say the nightmare is only just beginning.

Dr Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organisation, warned that a growing health crisis in South America was at breaking point.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed our region to the limit,” she told a news conference. “Preparing for winter and hurricane season is a critical part of this fight.”

The World Health Organisation recently declared South America the “new epicentre” of the COVID-19 outbreak, with cases and fatalities rising drastically as the pandemic slows down in Europe, Australia and East Asia.


Countries across South America are feeling the strain from the pandemic, with rising new daily cases and fatalities, and faltering economies.

No country has been hit harder than Brazil, which has the world’s second-highest number of cases after the United States, and the third-highest death toll with more than 38,000 fatalities.

The country’s far-right government has been accused of censorship after it stopped releasing its COVID-19 figures and wiped an official site clean of data.

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RELATED: WHO declares South America new virus epicentre

Overnight a Supreme Court justice forced the country’s authorities to reinstate this information, saying that failure to adopt internationally recognised methods of data collection, analysis and dissemination could have “disastrous consequences” for the country.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro faces increasing global criticism for his response to the pandemic, and his insistence on prioritising the country’s economy over the health crisis.

He has also been slammed for downplaying the pandemic, having infamously compared it to a “little flu”, and for touting an antimalarial drug as a cure for the virus despite inconclusive scientific evidence.

But the virus is also surging in countries that pushed ahead with strict lockdown measures early on.

Peru, for example, was among the first South American countries to go into lockdown, with its leader Martín Vizcarra enforcing measures from March 16.

But despite this – as well as rampant testing – Peru is the next worst-hit country in South America after Brazil, with more than 170,000 cases and 4600 deaths.

Its economy, one of the region’s highest performing until February, has also largely ground to a halt following the lockdown period.

RELATED: Mayor in Peru plays dead to avoid arrest for breaking lockdown

Over in Mexico, officials say cases will continue to rise and are still weeks away from peaking, even as the Mexican government begins to push a gradual reopening of the economy.

The country has also been accused of suppressing information about the virus, with speculation that its officials death toll of 14,649 is actually much higher.

RELATED: New coronavirus cases hit global record high

In Ecuador, the pandemic was coupled with false reports of corpses being thrown into the sea, bodies washed up on beaches and miracle cures, leading the country’s government communications service to put out a statement against “disinformation”.

The country has recorded over 3600 deaths and over 40,000 cases since the pandemic began.

Chile has also seen a burst in cases, with a total nearing 143,000, including 3913 in the last 24 hours alone. The virus death toll there is 2283.

President Iván Duque of Colombia recently relaxed lockdown rules, allowing local officials to make the final call on regulations. The national caseload subsequently surged, and is currently over 42,000.

New cases reached a new single-day global high on Sunday: 136,000, with three-quarters in just 10 countries, mostly in the Americas and South Asia. That adds to a global case tally of more than 7 million people worldwide and more than 400,000 deaths.

Dr Etienne also noted an acceleration in cases in Panama, Costa Rica and Venezuela, as well as Haiti and Suriname in the Caribbean.

RELATED: Case numbers spike in 20 US states


New coronavirus cases are spiking in parts of California and the US southwest, prompting Arizona to reactivate its emergency plan for medical facilities and California to place counties where half its population lives on a watch list.

The uptick in cases, which could lead authorities to reimpose or tighten public health restrictions aimed at slowing the virus’ spread, complicates efforts to reopen the US economy, which has been devastated by shelter-at-home rules.

New Jersey, one of the states hit hardest by the pandemic with over 12,000 deaths, lifted its stay-at-home order on Tuesday.

The country’s case tally currently stands at 1,983,825, with 111,747 deaths, making the US the most impacted country in the world.

RELATED: Some Americans ‘ingesting bleach’ ward off virus

On Tuesday, 21 US states reported weekly increases in new cases of COVID-19. Arizona, Utah and New Mexico all posted rises of 40 per cent or higher for the week ended Sunday, compared with the prior seven days, according to a Reuters analysis.

Health officials believe other cases have been passed along by people not following social-distancing recommendations. It is too soon to see whether cases will also spike after protests swept the country over the May 25 death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, an African-American man, officials said.

RELATED: Fears US protests will spread virus

The number of new infections in the first week of June rose 3 per cent in the US, the first increase after five weeks of declines, according to an analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

But pressure to reopen economies is great, and states continued to lift coronavirus-related restrictions on Tuesday.

University of Washington researchers estimated on Monday that 145,728 people could die of COVID-19 in the US by August.

– with wires

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