The virus spread rapidly across the region during the holiday season and is challenging already strained health systems.
Driven by the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, new infections have reached unprecedented levels across the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization said, doubling cases during the past week.
During a regular news briefing on Wednesday, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said cases across the Americas rose to 6.1 million on January 8, from 3.4 million cases on January 1.
“Infections are accelerating across every corner of the region of the Americas, and once again, our health systems are being challenged as emergency room visits and hospitalisations are rising,” Etienne said.
🌎 Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 300 million people around the world have been infected with COVID-19. And the virus has quickly picked up pace over the holiday season, reaching levels of transmission never seen before during this pandemic – @DirOPSPAHO
— PAHO/WHO (@pahowho) January 12, 2022
The new data came as nations around the world were seeing record high increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations rates, driven by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant – putting pressure on already strained health systems.
Etienne said the Omicron variant has been detected in 35 countries in the Americas – nearly every country in the region – and it is soon expected to become the most dominant variant.
Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil have been experiencing significant increases in new cases, she said, while in Argentina and Paraguay COVID-19 infections have increased by nearly 300 percent over the last week.
The United States, PAHO said, is reporting the bulk of the new cases, with states in the East and Midwest regions experiencing the most rapid surges.
During a regular news briefing on Wednesday Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the US is currently reporting an average of more than 750,000 cases per day, a 47 percent increase from last week.
Hospital admissions, at about 19,800 per day, are a 33 percent increase from a week ago, while daily deaths at about 1,600 per day, have gone up 40 percent over the previous week.
“The risk of hospitalisation remains low, especially among people who are up to date on their COVID vaccines,” Walensky said. “However, the staggering rise in cases over one million new cases each day has led to a high number of total hospitalisations.”
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country has secured enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for all eligible Canadians to receive a booster as well as a fourth dose.
As Omicron cases surge and hospitals feel the strain, Quebec, Canada’s second-most populous province has imposed a nighttime curfew and other tough restrictions.
On Tuesday, it announced a plan to impose fines on unvaccinated residents in the coming weeks.
According to official figures, Canada is seeing an average of more than 260,000 new COVID cases a day and 500 daily deaths.