The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is warning Antigua and Barbuda and other countries in the Americas that “if we relax… 2021 may be far worse than 2020”.
The caution came from Director of PAHO, Dr Carissa Etienne, who also highlighted a rise in Covid-19 cases across the region following the holiday season.
Her warning comes as scientists find new variants of the virus which make it easier for it to be transferred from one individual to the next.
Dr Etienne said while these new variants have not shown signs that they affect patients differently, the increase in transmissibility accelerates the threat to health systems “at a time in which they are already close to capacity”.
She said that it is for this reason that public health measures such as wearing masks in public, hand washing, and social distancing remain important practices in controlling the spread of the virus in all its forms.
“Our collective ability to keep up these measures has the ability to change the trajectory of this year,” the PAHO director added.
Striking an optimistic note, Dr Etienne said with the World Health Organization (WHO) already approving a vaccine for use and more on the way, the region is moving closer to controlling the pandemic.
She hastened to add, however, that as long as shots remain limited in availability, Antigua and Barbuda and other countries in the Americas cannot rely on them as a measure to reduce the spread of the virus, or “to flatten the pandemic curve”.
The health professional also outlined factors that will help to control the spread of the virus in 2021.
She is firstly encouraging the equitable access to tools to prevent and treat Covid-19.
“We must ensure that health workers have the protective gear and equipment they need to do their jobs safely and that every person that requires hospitalisation can access the basic medications they need, ICU beds if that is necessary, to manage and treat the condition,” she explained.
Dr Etienne added that doses of vaccines must not only be produced quickly but must be equitably and swiftly distributed across all countries, regardless of their income.
To date, Antigua and Barbuda has recorded 176 cases of Covid-19 after experiencing recent increases in positive results.
Among the confirmed cases, 19 of them remain active.