COVID-19 picks up pace in Americas as Omicron spreads, health agency says

BRASILIA, Jan 12 (Reuters) – The spread of COVID-19 in the Americas driven by the Omicron variant of the virus has reached levels of transmission never before seen during the pandemic, with cases doubling to 6.1 million over the past week, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

Omicron has reached nearly every country in the Americas and is expected to quickly become the dominant variant in the region, the health agency said.

A person gets tested for COVID-19 at a van during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., January 11, 2022. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The United States is reporting the bulk of the new cases, with states in the East and Midwest experiencing rapid surges, it said.

Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil also are experiencing significant surges in new cases, while in Argentina and Paraguay COVID-19 infections have increased by nearly 300% over the last week, according to PAHO.

Omicron has already reached nearly every country in the Americas, detected in 35 countries and territories of the region, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said in a briefing.

“One of the characteristics that sets Omicron apart seems to be less severe symptoms. Even so, Omicron infections can be lethal, especially for the immunocompromised and the unvaccinated,” Etienne said, urging continued vaccination.

Nearly 60% of the people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Chile, Cuba and Argentina have some of the highest vaccination coverage rates in the world, she said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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