1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Americas are the new coronavirus 'epicenter' – WHO

May 26, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) is advising countries in the Americas not to relax restrictions. With rates in North America slowing, Brazil recorded the most new cases anywhere in the world over the past seven days.

Hospital staff at a patient's bed in Sao Paulo.
Image: DW/Gustavo Basso

A World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Tuesday that the Americas were now considered to be the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, advising countries in the region not to ease restrictions. 

Carissa Etienne, WHO director for the Americas and head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said that the number of COVID-19 cases was "still accelerating" in Brazil, Peru, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

"Our region has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic," Etienne said, adding that Latin America was currently outpacing Europe and the United States in the number of daily infections. 

Read more:  Coronavirus: Brazil headed for catastrophe

Brazil needs to do 'everything it can'

"In South America,we are particularly concerned that the number of new cases reported last week in Brazil was the highest for a seven-day period since the outbreak began," Etienne said.

As the country's daily COVID-19 death rate also approaches the highest in the world, Etienne said Brazil's daily COVID-19 death toll was expected to peak at around 1,020 by the third week of June. 

Brazil current has approximately 375,000 COVID-19 cases, which is second only to the 1.6 million in the United States. The country's death toll is currently at over 23,000, but experts estimate the actual number could be much higher as deaths go unreported. 

The WHO is warning Brazilian officials that they must have adequate testing and tracing measures to in place to keep the virus from spreading before economies can be reopened. 

Etienne said the PAHO recommends a combination of social distancing measures, testing and health system preparation.

However, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has lashed out against the country's state and regional leaders for continuing lockdowns, and has argued that the price to the economy outweighs health risks. 

On Monday, Mike Ryan, the WHO's executive director of emergency services, said that Brazil's "intense'' transmission rates mean stay-at-home measures must remain in place, regardless of potential economic damage. "You must continue to do everything you can," he said.

Still in the 'middle of the first wave'

A recent forecast released by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in the US, warns that Brazil could record 125,000 COVID-19 deaths by August. In the same time frame, Peru could total 20,000 and Chile could see 12,000 fatalities. 

The WHO's Ryan warned against assuming that the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to dissipate, pointing to the outbreaks in Latin American countries as a warning.

"Right now, we're not in the second wave. We're right in the middle of the first wave globally," he said. "We're still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up." 

wmr/msh (Reuters, AFP)

DW sends out a daily selection of news and features. Sign up here.