Latin America has started to resume normal social and public life at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic still requires major control interventions, World Health Organization regional director Carissa Etienne said on Wednesday.
Coronavirus cases in Colombia's border area with Venezuela have increased ten-fold in the last two weeks, Etienne said in a virtual briefing from Washington with other Pan American Health Organization directors.
Death rates are climbing in parts of Mexico, and similar trends are seen in Ecuador, Costa Rica and Bolivia, with similar patterns also emerging in areas of Argentina, she said.
"Although the entire world is racing to develop new tools to prevent and cure Covid-19, a safe and effective vaccine that can be manufactured and delivered at scale is not around the corner," Etienne warned.
"We must be clear that opening up too early gives this virus more room to spread and puts our populations at greater risk. Look no further than Europe," she said.
Etienne said governments must monitor travel very carefully because reopening to tourism can lead to setbacks. That has happened in the Caribbean, where several countries that had virtually no cases have experienced spikes as tourism resumed.
According to a Reuters tally, Latin America has recorded around 8.4 million coronavirus cases, and over 314,000 deaths, both figures being the highest of any region.
The world health body yesterday warned of "alarming rates of transmission" of Covid-19 across Europe and cautioned countries against shortening quarantine periods.
The WHO's regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said the number of cases seen in September "should serve as a wake-up call for all of us."
"Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region," he told an online press conference from the Danish capital Copenhagen.
The health body also said it would not change its guidance calling for a 14-day quarantine period for anyone exposed to the novel coronavirus.
"Our quarantine recommendation of 14 days has been based on our understanding of the incubation period and transmission of the disease. We would only revise that on the basis of a change of our understanding of the science," WHO Europe's senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said.
In France for instance, the recommended length for self-isolation in case of exposure has been reduced from 14 to seven days.
It is 10 days in the UK and Ireland, and several other European countries, such as Portugal and Croatia, are currently considering reducing their recommendations.
"Knowing the immense individual and societal impact even a slight reduction in the length of quarantine can have... I encourage countries of the region to make scientific due process with their experts and explore safe reduction options," Kluge said, adding that the "concept of quarantine must be protected" and "continuously adapted."
The 53 member states of WHO Europe have recorded nearly five million cases of Covid-19 and more than 227,000 related deaths, according to the organisation's own figures.
The number of daily cases recorded is currently between 40,000 and 50,000, comparable to a daily peak of 43,000 on April 1 -- although testing in many countries has increased considerably.
A new record was set on September 11, with some 54,000 cases recorded in 24 hours.
Following the introduction of strict measures in many countries around Europe, cases hit an all-time low in June, Kluge stressed.
"If you lift the pressure from the virus, naturally you're going to see this increase," he said.
However, noting reports that Europeans were experiencing Covid "fatigue", he said that rather than returning to lockdowns authorities ought to "focus on reducing harm, where and when possible."
"Engage the youth in finding new and safe ways to be social," Kluge said.
Meanwhile, India reported another record jump in daily coronavirus infections with 97,894 cases in the last 24 hours, data from the health ministry showed yesterday.
With 5.12 million cases in all, India is the world's second-worst affected country, and trails only the United States, which has a caseload of around 6.6 million.
Deaths, which have been relatively low so far, are showing an uptick, and the country has recorded more than 1,000 deaths every day for the last two weeks.
Yesterday, the federal health ministry said 1,132 people died of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, taking total fatalities from the disease to 83,198.