Central America suffers new pandemic wave, demands more vaccine

Panama City, Apr 22 (EFE).- Half the countries of Central America are facing a new Covid-19 wave with record numbers of people in intensive care units in Costa Rica and a growing number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Guatemala and Honduras, at the same time that the entire isthmus is clamoring for equitable and faster access to vaccines.

In the other half of the region, the situation seems to be calmer: Panama is talking about having the pandemic under “control” after a “second wave” in late 2020; El Salvador is emphasizing the “stability” of its infection figures; and Nicaragua is showing very low case numbers and deaths, although a network of voluntary doctors are painting a more serious picture.

These six Central American countries with about 48.5 million residents among them, all have high levels of poverty and historically deficient health care systems, and they have suffered about 1.1 million total Covid cases and 23,450 deaths in a little over a year, according to official figures.

Costa Rica, with 5 million citizens, 233,498 cases and 3,115 deaths, has 277 of its 316 ICU beds filled at present, the largest percentage since the pandemic started as the country is experiencing a spike in infections.

Some 68 percent of the beds for patients with slight or moderate Covid symptoms were occupied as of Wednesday, while figures from April 16 showed that the virus spread rate was 1.2, meaning that for every five positive cases, 6 additional people will become infected, the government said.

Guatemala, with 16.3 million citizens, 216,329 Covid cases and 7,309 deaths – the largest death toll in the region – on Wednesday declared a red alert due to the increase in cases that has saturated the temporary hospitals set up to deal with the pandemic.

Honduras, with 9.5 million citizens, 202,000 confirmed cases and 4,976 deaths, is experiencing a serious situation, according to public and private medical sources, given that so far in 2021 76,856 cases have been registered and 1,742 people have died from Covid, figures that show a dangerous upward trend that threatens to result in new government-decreed lockdowns and quarantines.

Panama, with 4.2 million residents, 361,678 cases and 6,196 deaths, now says that is has gotten the pandemic under control after a second wave late last year led to new confinements and travel restrictions this year, capital region health director Israel Cedeño told EFE.

So far this year, “we’ve had a reduction of almost 500 percent in the caseload,” said Cedeño, who nevertheless noted that the country “is still … reopening economic sectors, and so the possibility exists that there will be an increase in cases.”

El Salvador, with its 6 million residents, has suffered 67,557 confirmed cases and 2,082 deaths, and Health Minister Francisco Alabi said this week that the country enjoys a certain “stability” of infections of between 130 and 174 per day, “a reduction in lethality” with 70 percent of its hospital beds currently unoccupied.

Several Central American leaders took advantage of the 27th Ibero-American Summit held on Wednesday in Andorra to call for equitable access to vaccine, given that the lack of it or the arrival of only small amounts is hampering regional immunization efforts.

Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador are moving forward with their vaccination programs, having gained access to vaccine via bilateral accords – especially with Pfizer and China’s Coronavac – but also via the World Health Organization’s Covas mechanism, which has sent small shipments of AstraZeneca.

Pfizer is making weekly deliveries to Costa Rica and Panama, which have administered some 698,000 doses and 574,000 doses, respectively.

El Salvador, meanwhile, had been receiving small batches of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines via Covax but received a million doses of China’s Sinovac on March 28 and has already administered more than 500,000 doses.

Guatemala and Honduras, however, have only administered a small number of doses, having received some via donations, but they are still waiting for the arrival of a purchase of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

Nicaragua has said it has administered a small number of doses of Sputnik V but on April 6 it began inoculating people with the 167,000 doses of Covishield donated by India.


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