Nowhere as worrisome for COVID-19 infections as South America, Brazil concerning: PAHO

By Julia Symmes Cobb

BOGOTA (Reuters) – South America is the most worrying region for COVID-19 infections, as cases mount in nearly every country, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

“Nowhere are infections as worrisome as in South America,” Director Carissa Etienne said during a weekly press conference.

Brazil has seen perhaps the most merciless surge and scientists forecast it will soon surpass the worst of a record January wave in the United States, with daily fatalities climbing above 4,000 on Tuesday.

“The situation in Brazil is concerning countrywide,” said COVID-19 incident director Sylvain Aldighieri. “Our concern at the moment is also for the Brazilian citizens themselves in this context of health services that are overwhelmed.”

Brazil needs access to more vaccines now and should be able to receive them through global partnerships, Aldighieri said.

PAHO can expand its help to Brazilian states if requested, he said, adding it is already aiding with virus sequencing, procuring oxygen and testing.

Intensive care units are nearing capacity in Peru and Ecuador and in parts of Bolivia and Colombia cases have doubled in the last week, Etienne said, adding the southern cone is also experiencing acceleration in cases.

The U.S., Brazil and Argentina are among the ten countries seeing the highest number of new infections globally, she added.

The Americas recorded more than 1.3 million new coronavirus cases and over 37,000 deaths last week, Etienne said, more than half of all deaths reported globally.

“We cannot ease public health and social interventions without good data and justification,” Etienne said, adding slowing and stopping transmission “requires decisive action by local and national governments.”

More than 210 million vaccine doses have been administered across the Americas, Etienne added.

Bolivia, Nicaragua and Haiti may be affected by Serum Institute of India vaccine shipment delays, said sub-director Jarbas Barbosa, but the World Health Organization is appealing to the Indian government to ensure shipment agreements.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb)

Number of COVID patients in intensive care in France at highest level this year

PARIS (Reuters) – The number of people with COVID-19 in French intensive care units rose by 84 on Tuesday to a new 2021 high of 4,634, health ministry data showed.

But the number of new infections, at 14,678, was the lowest since Jan. 3, excluding Mondays, when case numbers dip because fewer tests are done over the weekend.

A third of France’s population, including the Paris region, has since Friday been under a lockdown that is due to last four weeks. Experts generally say it takes two weeks for restrictive measures to take effect.

The total number of people in hospital for COVID-19 rose by 268 to at 26,756, the highest since Feb. 11.

The COVID-19 death toll rose by 287 to 92,908, the seventh-highest in the world.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

‘Oh no, not again!’ – Parisians shudder at new COVID lockdown

By Yiming Woo and Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) – Camila Campodonico was at work in Paris on Thursday evening when the government announced the city was entering a new lockdown to combat COVID-19, and she knew her plans for a get-together with friends this weekend were over.

“I heard that and I said: ‘Oh no, not again. A lockdown.’ I wasn’t very happy,” said Campodonico, a student from Argentina who is working temporarily for a marketing company.

With intensive care units close to overflowing, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that Paris residents could only leave home for essential trips or exercise, and non-essential travel to other parts of the country was banned.

Large numbers of Paris residents headed to railway stations on Friday morning so they could get out of the city before the restrictions, due to last for a month, come into force at midnight.

At the Gare de l’Est station in Paris, there were long lines of people at the ticket office. People, some with pets, rushed to board trains heading for Strasbourg and Luxembourg.

Valentino Armilli, 27, was going to visit his parents in Thionville, in the Lorraine region in eastern France, for the weekend. He took the decision to go there on Thursday night, because of the new lockdown.

“My parents had COVID a month ago and I have not seen them since. This weekend is the last time for a long while that I’ll be able to see them,” he said.

At the Montparnasse train station, Anna Henry, a 21-year-old student, said she had decided to go to her parents’ place in Brittany, western France, describing the latest Paris lockdown as “a bit too much”.

Anthony Massat, 23, also a student, was catching a train to Toulouse in south-western France: “There’s no lockdown in the south, so it will be a bit more free.”

(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones)

COVID-19 situation in Paris area extremely tense: French PM

PARIS (Reuters) – The COVID-19 situation in the Paris region is extremely tense and authorities are ready to take new measures, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Friday, but he did not announce a tightening of curfew or new regional lockdowns.

Despite rising COVID-19 cases, the administration of President Emmanuel Macron has not to date declared a new national lockdown, opting instead to tighten measures locally in hard-hit towns like Nice and Dunkirk, but Paris has been spared so far.

“I call on everyone, and especially those who live in the capital, to be extremely careful, wear the mask and respect social distancing. The aim is to reduce the pressure on the hospital system,” Castex said during a visit to a hospital.

The number of people with COVID-19 in intensive care units on Friday exceeded 4,000 for the first time since Nov. 26, with nearly 1,100 COVID-19 patients in ICUs in the Paris region alone.

In Paris and the surrounding region, healthcare managers say the intensive care units are close to being overloaded.

Castex said that in the Ile-de-France region around Paris the vaccination campaign would be sped up this weekend, with the delivery of 25,000 extra doses.

France’s vaccination program has been hampered by logistical bottlenecks and problems with deliveries from vaccine manufacturers but Castex said the campaign was speeding up, with 320,326 shots administered on Friday, a new record.

As of Friday, 7.04 million people – more than one tenth of the French population — had been vaccinated, official figures showed, including 2.22 million second injections.

(Reporting by GV De Clercq; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Kirsten Donovan)

U.S. may convert thousands of New York hotel, college rooms into care units

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at converting more than 10,000 New York rooms, potentially in hotels and college dorms, into medical care units to help address the fast-spreading coronavirus, the commanding general of the Army Corps said on Friday.

The pandemic has upended life in much of the United States, shuttering schools and businesses, prompting millions to work from home, forcing many out of jobs and sharply curtailing travel.

Lieutenant General Todd Semonite told reporters at the Pentagon that the Army Corps was looking at converting the rooms and other large spaces into intensive care unit-type facilities and it would need to happen within weeks, not months.

“We’re talking about over 10,000 that we are looking at right now,” Semonite said, adding that a decision would be made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Earlier this week, the White House said it was in talks with the Pentagon about how the military can be deployed to deal with the coronavirus, including setting up field hospitals in states with a surge in cases.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for the Army Corps to increase hospital capacity. The Army Corps of Engineers is made up of 37,000 soldiers and civilians providing engineering services in more than 130 countries, its website says.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Leslie Adler and Howard Goller)