Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Argentina passes 1 million cases as coronavirus hits Latin America

Published:Tuesday | October 20, 2020 | 9:39 AM
In this April 22, 2020 file photo, medical workers evacuate an elderly woman from a nursing home after multiple residents of the facility tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentina reached 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, October 19, 2020, according to the Ministry of Health. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

USHUAIA, Argentina (AP) — At the edge of Argentina in a city known as “The End of the World,” many thought they might be spared from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sitting far from the South American nation’s bustling capital, health workers in Ushuaia were initially able to contain a small outbreak among foreigners hoping to catch boats to the Antarctic at the start of the crisis.

But as Argentina passed 1 million virus cases Monday, it is now smaller cities like Ushuaia that are seeing some of the most notable upticks.

Doctors have had to quadruple the number of beds for COVID-19 patients over the last month.

At least 60% of those tested recently are coming back positive for the virus.

“We were the example of the country,” said Dr. Carlos Guglielmi, director of the Ushuaia Regional Hospital. “Evidently someone arrived with the coronavirus.”

Across Latin America, three other nations are expected to reach the 1 million case milestone in the coming weeks — Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

The grim mark comes as Latin America continues to register some of the world’s highest daily case counts. And though some nations have seen important declines, overall there has been little relief, with cases dropping in one municipality only to escalate in another.

The trajectory is showing that the pandemic is likely to leave no corner of Latin America unscathed.

“The second wave is arriving without ever having finished the first,” said Dr Luis Jorge Hernández, a public health professor at the University of the Andes in Colombia.

Argentina has seen cases spiral despite instituting one of the world’s longest lockdowns. Colombia’s major cities have seen a dip, but smaller areas like the department of Caldas in the coffee region are only now reaching a peak.

Peru’s overall numbers have dropped, but officials recently reported 12 regions are spiking back up. Mexico, likewise, has seen a rise in a quarter of all states over the last week.

The result is that rather than a second virus wave like that being seen in Europe, epidemiologists anticipate a more sustained, plateau-like trend.

“Our countries are still getting out of the first wave,” said Dr Marcos Espinal, director of the Pan American Health Organization’s Department of Communicable Diseases. “A great part of the population remains exposed and community transmission continues.”

The virus’ cruel path through Latin America is a consequence of weak public health systems, social factors like poverty and poor government decisions early on that resulted in flawed or limited testing and little contact tracing.

Today the region is home to half the 10 countries with the highest total cases around the globe.

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