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PAHO Warns Latin America – Especially Nicaragua – Coronavirus 'Accelerating Rapidly'

Cemetery workers in Guayaquil, Ecuador, moving corpses of COVID-19 patients from a sidelwalk last week.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Latin America and the Caribbean have so far avoided the scarier level of COVID-19 infection seen in Europe, Asia and the U.S. But the region’s numbers are starting to jump. And hemispheric health experts on Tuesday had a warning for one country in particular.

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In the past week, the world for the first time has seen tragic images of the new coronavirus pandemic coming out of Latin America. Most alarming is the situation in Ecuador. Its sudden outbreak of COVID-19 deaths is so overwhelming that corpses have lined sidewalks in the port city of Guayaquil.

As a result, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) in Washington, D.C., is advising the region to take the pandemic more seriously.

“In just seven days, we’ve witnessed cases and deaths more than doubling," said PAHO director Dr. Carissa Etienne on a Zoom conference with media correspondents. "The pandemic is accelerating rapidly – and the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Brazil has the most cases in Latin America – more than 12,000 – and its deaths have tripled since last week to almost 600. Health officials say Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been too dismissive of the crisis. But Etienne said she’s also worried about another leader: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Nicaragua is seeing its first cases. But Ortega is widely accused of ignoring if not scoffing at global guidelines for reducing coronavirus transmission.

“PAHO is concerned about the response to COVID-19 in Nicaragua," Etienne said. "Concerned for the lack of social distancing; the convening of mass gatherings; testing, the reporting of cases; for what we see as inadequate infection prevention and control.”

PAHO officials said they’re poised to get 1.7 million more COVID-19 tests to the region in the coming weeks.

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Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.