Central America sees Omicron-driven surge in Covid-19 cases, demand for tests

Panama City, Jan 21 (EFE).- The Omicron variant has triggered a surge in Covid-19 cases in Central America, where people have been waiting in long lines for tests in countries such as El Salvador and Panama.

Even so, this latest coronavirus wave has proven to be more mild than previous ones, causing fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

The Pan American Health Organization said Wednesday that over the past week the number of Covid-19 cases has doubled in Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras, countries where – like El Salvador and Guatemala – authorities have confirmed the presence of Omicron.

In response, the Central American governments generally have avoided imposing further restrictions on mobility but have prohibited mass gatherings and are promoting their respective vaccination campaigns.

Panama, a country of 4.28 million inhabitants that has reported 614,957 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 7,565 Covid-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic, registered a record 12,351 new cases on Thursday amid a fourth wave that, according to experts, has not yet reached its peak.

The Omicron-triggered wave in that country is causing a slight uptick in Covid-19 deaths, with 72 fatalities over the past seven days, compared with 44 in the previous seven days.

The number of testing centers also has increased amid high demand in Panama, where this week nearly 36,000 tests were administered in a single day and the case positivity rate has risen to more than 36 percent, a reflection of the Omicron variant’s extremely high transmissibility.

In Panama, where authorities have not restricted mobility but are urging people to use masks, social distance and get vaccinated, 80.2 percent of the target population (five years and older) have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, 71.7 percent have received an initial two-dose series and 823,530 booster shots have been administered.

Long lines of people seeking tests also have formed in El Salvador, a country of more than 6 million inhabitants that has registered 123,577 coronavirus cases and 3,840 Covid-19 deaths since the onset of the pandemic there.

No limits have been placed on mobility in that country, where a total of more than 9.6 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered and the vast majority of people continue to use face masks.

Costa Rica (637,327 total cases and 7,441 deaths since the start of the pandemic) has seen a record surge in cases this week – 6,016 new cases on Thursday – even after imposing new restrictions.

To contain the fourth wave of the pandemic, that nation of 5.1 million inhabitants extended a nighttime ban on movement and business operations by two hours (from 10 pm to 5 am between Jan. 11 and Jan. 23).

All mass events have been canceled in the country, with cultural and sporting events only allowed without spectators in attendance.

More than 93 percent of the population has received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine there.

Guatemala this week posted a more than 10-fold increase in new cases relative to the end of last month, from around 300 new cases per day to 3,173 new cases on Thursday.

Hospitals, however, have not reported a major rise in patients in need of intensive care or moderate care even though just 27 percent of the population has received a full two-dose vaccine series.

Guatemala, which has by far Central America’s largest population (16.3 million inhabitants), has reported the most Covid-19 deaths (16,223) and confirmed coronavirus cases (662,828) in that region since the start of the pandemic.

The Omicron variant also has caused a surge in new coronavirus cases in Honduras, a nation of 9.5 million people with at least 387,515 confirmed cases and 10,469 Covid-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic there.

Even so, the Covid-19 death rate has continued to trend downward, according to that country’s National Risk Management System (Sinager).

More than 10 million vaccine doses have been administered in Honduras and around 4.2 million have received an initial two-dose series.

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