The number of covid19 infections he Americas doubled during the first week of January, Dr Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said on Wednesday.
In the first weekly virtual media conference of 2022, Etienne said the region reported 6.8 million new cases as of January 8, double the 3.4 million reported on the first day of the year.
She said compared to this same date in 2021, there was a 250 per cent increase over the 2.4 million cases reported then.
Etienne warned, "Our health systems are having problems in emergency rooms and hospitalisations."
However, she said thanks to the increase in vaccinations, deaths have not increased as a result of the current wave of infection.
In the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Aruba, Curaçao and Martinique reported a higher incidence of covid19 in the last week. In some South American countries cases have increased by 300 per cent in the last week.
At least 17 countries have announced a 50 per cent increase compared to the previous week.
PAHO reported 42 countries and territories in the region have detected the omicron variant, which is on its way to becoming the dominant strain.
"This new wave will not be moderate, as omicron is already causing difficulties and limiting the care of other diseases, overwhelming health personnel in several countries," Etienne said.
Vaccinations are especially important as omicron advances, she added.
PAHO reported this week 60 per cent of the population in the Americas has been fully vaccinated. Chile, Cuba and Argentina have the highest vaccination rates. Etienne said 39 countries have already been deploying additional doses for protection.
She called for vaccination of healthcare professionals to continue to be prioritised, and for the use of masks with the highest degree of filtration.
"We must reduce the number of new infections so health systems do not collapse, using public health measures and vaccines," she said.
Dr Jarbas Barbosa, deputy director of PAHO, said in the Caribbean there are countries with vaccination rates below 40 per cent and PAHO is working with ministries of health to confront anti-vaccine groups that share false news about vaccines.
"The economy in the Caribbean has been badly hit by the pandemic and the ideal to be able to return to normality is for vaccination coverage to increase," he said.
Dr Sylvain Aldighieri, director of incidents for covid19 of PAHO, said the reduction of the length of quarantine periods will depend on each country and their internal evaluations, based on the risks they run.
"Omicron has three times the transmission capacity, but it does not cause a more serious or lethal disease, and hospitalisations or deaths with the full vaccination scheme are minimal," he assured.
Dr Ciro Ugarte, director of emergencies, said it is important to recognise that the emergence of more cases in many countries in the region will have to take precautionary measures, including some on the resumption of cruise trips.
“Our recommendation has been to proceed progressively, based on co-operative agreements with tourism companies, and it seems logical and sensible to suspend or limit cruises. We must reduce the impact of covid19 in all sectors,” he said.