Buenos Aires, Argentina – After months of withdrawal, confirmed cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in the southern tip of South America. But officials in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay expect higher vaccination rates to mean the latest wave will not be as severe as the previous ones.
The case has been on the rise for several weeks, mainly fueled by the BA.2 version of the omicron variant. In Chile, the number of confirmed cases weekly at the end of May is more than double the number at the beginning of the month. In Argentina, cases increased 146 percent over the same period, while in Uruguay, the increase was nearly 200 percent.
Although the number of positive tests is much lower than in previous waves, experts say the increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases is a reminder that the epidemic is not over.
Argentine Health Minister Carla Vizotti recently said that Argentina was “launching the fourth wave of Covid-19”. “Stay tuned.
Countries are part of a regional trend because litigation is growing across the continent.
“Covid is growing again in America,” Carissa Etienne, head of the Pan American Health Organization, told an online news conference last week.
For many residents of the region, rapid growth means they will suddenly have to think about coronaviruses again.
“My family has had countless lawsuits since my birthday last week,” said Marina Barroso, 40, outside a test center in a Buenos Aires suburb. “The number of cases has really increased.”
The high increase in cases has not yet translated into significant hospital admissions and deaths. Officials attribute the high vaccination rates in the region to the fact that more than 80 percent of the population in the three countries have received at least two doses.
“We are in a very different situation from the previous wave because so many people have been vaccinated,” said Claudia Salguira, president of the Argentine Society of Infectious Diseases (SADI).
In Uruguay, the number of beds in the intensive care unit occupied by patients has doubled, from 1.5 percent at the beginning of the month to just over 3 percent in mid-May.
“Of course, mathematically we’ve doubled the cases, but we’re still talking small numbers,” said Julio Pontet, president of the Uruguayan Society of Intensive Care Medicine, head of the intensive care unit at Pasteur Hospital in Montevideo. “In serious cases, what protects us is our high level of vaccination.”
In previous waves, there was a gap between case growth and hospitalization, and “probably the same thing will happen now,” said Felipe Eloreta, a mathematical epidemiologist at the University of Santiago. “Still, the death toll will be lower now.”
Chile has an advantage because it enjoys the highest level of vaccination in the region and the highest rate of booster shots in the world where more than 80 percent of people have at least a third dose, he said.
Chile has been able to receive booster shots with such a large portion of its population making life very difficult for those who avoid shots.
Beginning in June, Chile will block the “mobility pass” of any adult who received a first booster more than six months ago and did not receive a second booster shot. Without a pass, Chileans are not allowed to go to restaurants, bars, or attend large events.
In other countries in the region, some are warning that there is a lack of vaccine promotion because of the lack of boosters.
Infectious disease specialist Hugo PG said: “There are a lot of people who don’t have enough vaccines, four million people have only one dose, 10 million have only two doses and there is a group who don’t.” A professor at the Medical School of Cordoba National University in Argentina. “There’s an indifferent, protestant attitude in the population that’s really insane.”
Adriana Valladares, a 41-year-old retailer in Buenos Aires, said the increase in lawsuits would not change her life.
“I have three doses so I feel pretty safe,” he said. “I was really scared of this virus but now I know a lot of people who caught it and they were fine.”
Some find that testing once is not as easy as it used to be.
“There has been a huge increase in cases but they are not testing anywhere,” said Jose Saberto in Avelanda, Buenos Aires. Sabarto said his daughter’s covid had been caught and a family member wanted to be tested but it was difficult to find an active test center.
It is important to test the infrastructure to “maintain and strengthen,” Etienne said.
“The truth is,” he added, “that the virus is not going away any time soon.”