Americas entering 2022 with over 100 mn Covid cases, on alert for Omicron

Americas Desk, Dec 27 (EFE).- The Americas are going into the last week of 2021 with a constantly increasing number of Covid-19 cases and will finish out the year with more than 100 million cases and 2.5 million deaths.

Meanwhile, health authorities are studying new measures for responding to the Omicron variant, the spread of which has forced the cancellation of thousands of flights and several cruises amid the Christmas and yearend holidays.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for instance, on Monday cut the isolation time from 10 days to five days for people testing positive for the coronavirus or having come in close contact with positive cases.

The World Health Organization has now officially registered 276.4 million infections and 5.37 million deaths from Covid-19 worldwide.

The Americas continue to be the region hardest hit by Covid with 36 percent (100.5 million) of the world’s cases and about 45 percent (2.4 million) of the deaths.

Of this caseload, almost half of the infected people – 46.2 million – and 62 percent of the deaths (1.55 million) have been registered in Latin America.

The Pan American Health Organization has warned that the situation in the Western Hemisphere is entering its third year of the pandemic with an ever-growing number of Covid cases, especially in North America, where last week there was a 36 percent spike in detected infections.

Meanwhile, there has been a decline in the number of new cases and daily deaths in parts of Central and South America, although countries like Bolivia have reported a considerable weekly increase in infections – 13 percent in Bolivia’s case – while in Ecuador and Argentina the number of cases per week also rose, but to a lesser degree.

According to the most recent reports, the Omicron variant has been reported in about 20 territories and countries in the Americas, including Argentina, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, the United States, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, the Cayman Islands, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, St. Martin and Trinidad and Tobago.

To that list now may be added the Dominican Republic, which reported a single case last Saturday, and Paraguay, where the government reported on Monday the first infections with Omicron, specifically three travelers coming from Cancun, Mexico.

The hemisphere remains on alert regarding the highly contagious and fast-spreading variant, which has now been detected in more than 110 countries around the world and continues to spread exponentially, doubling the number of cases in two or three days in the communities where it has been detected, according to the WHO.

World authorities, however, have tried to reduce the alarm level by emphasizing that the figures gleaned from outbreaks in South Africa, the United Kingdom and Denmark suggest a lower risk of hospitalization in patients who contract Omicron compared with those who contract the earlier Delta variant, which has been the predominant strain for some months but may soon be supplanted in that category by the new strain.

Despite that, the uncertainty over the impact of Omicron continues and has led authorities to increase restrictions, especially in the air travel sector, where in this final leg of the year thousands of flight cancellations and reschedulings have been registered, in particular in China and US.

On Monday, in fact, the big US airlines once again canceled more than 1,000 flights for the fourth consecutive day to try and halt the spread of the variant, according to Flight Aware, a firm that publishes real time information about flights.

On Sunday, 1,517 flights were canceled, while the day before another 1,000 or so scheduled to depart from or arrive in the US were also scratched, and last Friday on Christmas Eve 700 flights were scrubbed, according to Flight Aware.

According to United Airlines, the increase in infections by Omicron in the US is having a “direct impact” on the flight crews and the rest of the personnel in the firm, who are finding themselves obligated to remain quarantined at home to recover from the virus.

Problems are also being experienced in the cruise lines, with the Carnival Freedom cruise ship returning to Miami on Sunday after a group of passengers tested positive for Covid-19, as a result of which the ship was not allowed to dock at the Caribbean islands of Bonaire and Aruba.

Last Thursday, Royal Caribbean reported that a total of 55 passengers and crew members of the Odyssey of the Seas, which set sail the previous Saturday from the port at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, tested positive for the virus during the eight-day cruise.

And authorities on the Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory in the Caribbean, announced that they will keep their ban on cruise ships in place, revoking their decision to allow the first such vessel to dock this week.

Given that spread of the virus, several countries are reconsidering some of their preventive health measures.

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