The coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of retreating across South America despite governments ratcheting up vaccination campaigns and placing their largest cities in quarantine; and Tuesday, a grim day for infections and deaths.
The South American country with the highest single-day death toll was Brazil adding 4,195 victims to reach the harrowing number of 336,957. The nation’s Health Ministry also confirmed 87,000 new Covid-19 cases, pushing the total case count of infections above 13.1 million.
Argentina also witnessed on Tuesday its worst day on record for new cases – 21,870 – and while the virus took another 163 lives, the Austral nation’s death toll – 56,634 – is surpassed only in the region by Brazil and Colombia.
Having rolled out the fastest and most comprehensive vaccine program on the continent, Chile is in the throes of the dangerous “third wave,” and which threatens to overwhelm its modern and extensive health system. Despite having reached immunity among at least 45% of its 19 million population with citizens getting at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Sinovac vaccines, on Tuesday, the country confirmed more than 5,000 new cases and 57 deaths.
After traversing a gully in new infections for almost three weeks from late February to mid-March, Colombia is now following the upward trend in contagion, registering on Tuesday 11,827 cases and 231 fatalities. The day’s deaths are the highest since 250 were reported by the Ministry of Health on February 11. Colombia’s death toll stands at 64,524.
Equally worrisome for the country is the real possibility that much-needed vaccine deliveries from China’s Sinovac and Pfizer could be delayed given stockpiling by developed nations and global production shortages.
During the Easter holidays, the demand for inoculation among the populace age 70 and over also declined as 2.4 million citizens decided that a vacation was more important for health than a vaccine. Colombia has administered 2.57 million doses and number almost on par with total coronavirus cases – 2,468,236.
The number of doses administered since the National Vaccine Program was rolled out on February 19 amounts to herd immunity among a mere 4% of the population, given that 64 million doses are required to meet a target of 35 million citizens – or 70% of the population. In a move that facilitates vaccine eligibility with private health coverage, the Ministry of Health has decreed that all costs – from importation to storage and administration – must be paid by hospitals and given free of charge to anyone who requires a vaccine. The decision by Health Minister Fernando Ruíz comes as Colombians with financial means, not unlike other affluent South Americans, are traveling to the U.S. to get vaccinated with “no questions asked.”
As Colombia lags in vaccinations, and new cases accelerate in Bogotá, Medellín and Barranquilla, where just months ago, the pandemic appeared to be under control, Carissa Etienne of the PanAmerican Health Organization confirmed during a press conference on Wednesday what many across the continent now fear: “South America is now the most worrying region for COVID-19 infections in the world.”