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Americas are new epicenter of coronavirus pandemic: WHO

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The World Health Organization (WHO) considers the Americas the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, and now is not the time for countries to ease restrictions, officials said in a Tuesday briefing.

Carissa Etienne, WHO director for the Americas and head of the Pan American Health Organization, said via videoconference that outbreaks were accelerating in countries such as Brazil, where the number of deaths reported in the last week was the highest in the world for a 7-day period since the coronavirus pandemic began.

As Brazil and India struggle with surging coronavirus cases, a top WHO expert warned Tuesday that the world is still smack in the middle of the pandemic, dampening hopes for a speedy global economic rebound and renewed international travel.

“Right now, we’re not in the second wave. We’re right in the middle of the first wave globally,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s executive director.

“We’re still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up,” Ryan told reporters, pointing to South America, South Asia and other areas where infections are still on the rise.

Migrant workers, who were stranded in the western state of Gujarat due to a lockdown imposed by the government to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), wait to board a train at a railway station to leave for their home state of Uttar Pradesh, in Ahmedabad, India. (Reuters)
Migrant workers, who were stranded in the western state of Gujarat due to a lockdown imposed by the government to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), wait to board a train at a railway station to leave for their home state of Uttar Pradesh, in Ahmedabad, India. (Reuters)

India saw a record single-day jump in new cases for the seventh straight day. It reported 6,535 new infections Tuesday, raising its total to 145,380, including 4,167 deaths.

WHO poured cold water on the hopes of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and others of quickly re-opening the economy, warning that authorities must first have enough testing in place to control the spread of the pandemic. Brazil has 375,000 coronavirus infections — second only to the 1.6 million cases in the US — and has counted over 23,000 deaths but many fear Brazil’s true toll is much higher.

Ryan said Brazil’s “intense” transmission rates means it should keep some stay-at-home measures in place, regardless of the negative impacts on its economy.

“You must continue to do everything you can,” he said.

Brazilian army officers disinfect a shelter for elderly people, homeless and patients with mental disorders, amid concerns of the spread of the coronavirus, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 14, 2020. (Reuters)
Brazilian army officers disinfect a shelter for elderly people, homeless and patients with mental disorders, amid concerns of the spread of the coronavirus, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 14, 2020. (Reuters)

But Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria has ruled out a full lockdown in Brazil’s largest state economy and plans to start loosening restrictions on June 1.

A US travel ban was taking effect Tuesday for foreigners coming from Brazil, moved up two days earlier than its original date. It does not apply to US citizens.

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