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Dr CARISSA F. ETIENNE, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

As T&T prepares to host a Taste of Carnival next month amid a surge of COVID-19 Delta and Omicron Variants of Concern, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) says keeping transmission low is key to allowing such interactions. At PAHO’s weekly Virtual Press Briefing on COVID-19 on Wednesday, Director Dr Carissa Etienne reported that the Americas recorded its highest weekly case count of the pandemic in the last week.

Etienne said Omicron was now the dominant variant in the region.

Meanwhile, some Caribbean countries hope to host festivals as part of their tourism offerings this year. The National Carnival Commission (NCC) is poised to release its calendar of concert type events that requires 50 per cent capacity at venues, mask-wearing, social distancing and other public health measures. Only vaccinated people can attend the events. PAHO’s Director of Health Emergencies Dr Ciro Ugarte said the status of the capacity of health services must drive the decision to carry out or permit social activities.

Ugarte said authorities must consider the transmission of the SARS/COV2 virus so that patients do not overwhelm health services. He said these events must also not disrupt a country’s continued recovery of all health services for the rest of the population.“The main factor is the vaccination coverage of the population. If the vaccination coverage is high, there is a lesser risk of overwhelming health services, as we know because vaccinated people will not be prone to present moderate or severe cases, even in the presence of a more transmissible variant like Omicron. Once again, the call is for vaccination, a tool that not only protects the individual but can also permit easing social distancing measures,” Ugarte said.He said national authorities pursued the best balance between social and economic considerations and the application of transmission control measures to reach the safest physical conditions for their populations. He said the spread of Omicron, which is generally associated with mild disease but more transmissible than others, characterises the pandemic at this stage.“Keeping low COVID-19 transmission levels and high vaccination coverage will allow countries and communities to better recover from the harsh impact of the pandemic. The national authorities are looking for that, but the responsibility is for each of us to maintain all the protective measures even if we are vaccinated.”Over the last week, the Americas recorded more than eight million new COVID-19 cases, 32 per cent higher than the previous week. Deaths were over 18,000, a 37 per cent increase.The United States of America continued to have the highest rate of new infections, although cases decreased by nearly one million in the last week. Mexico’s southern states saw new infections triple.In the Caribbean, Haiti and Martinique continued to report significant surges. These countries are among those with the lowest vaccination coverage. Weekly fatalities rose 107 per cent in Central America, with Belize reporting the highest rate of new infections. In South America, Paraguay and some Guianas saw COVID-19 cases double almost every two days. “As COVID cases are spreading more actively and more quickly than ever before, it is clear that Omicron has become the predominant SAR/COV2 strain in our region at this moment. To better understand how this virus is progressing and guide decisions, it is critical that countries continue to collect and use sub national and sub population data. The more localise the data, the better,” Etienne said.

She warned that what happens in urban centres might not reflect the reality of rural regions. She said PAHO needs data on the effects of the virus on different age groups, gender and geographies so it can equip local municipalities and districts with the tools they need to manage risk and guide their populations.