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Amid the unprecedented spread of Covid-19 in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization (OPS) called on Wednesday to take advantage of rapid antigen tests for symptomatic people.

“We urge countries to expand testing at the community level to relieve pressure on hospitals, which are working overtime,” the director of the OPS, Carissa Etienne.

“Because we are facing a shortage of Covid-19 tests, the OPS recommends that countries prioritize rapid antigen tests for people who are experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 and are at risk of spreading the virus,” it added.

Etienne said that rapid antigen tests give results in minutes, not days, do not require specialized training or expensive equipment, and can be implemented in primary health centers close to people’s homes.

“It is critical that countries use testing wisely,” he stressed.

Since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, the molecular biology test using PCR (polymerase chain reaction), very precise but requires laboratory analysis.

Later, the World Health Organization (WHO) approved “affordable and reliable” rapid antigen tests to detect covid-19.

Peak in the Caribbean

The OPS He said that in the last week alone, the Americas reported almost 7.2 million new cases of Covid-19 and more than 15,000 deaths related to the disease.

“We are still in the midst of the pandemic,” Etienne emphasized, noting new peaks in infections, not only of the delta variant, but of the new omicron strain, more contagious and on the way to unseating it as the most dominant.

U.S Y Canada continue to experience an increase in hospitalizations for the coronavirus, while Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras are reporting the highest numbers of new infections in Central America, with more than doubling the number of cases in the last week.

The Caribbean is experiencing the steepest rise in Covid-19 infections since the start of the pandemic two years ago. The OPS He said that infections in Martinique increased by more than 600% and in Saint Martin, more than 135%.

Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia have also seen an increase in cases, while hospitalizations are growing in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.

“More actively than ever”

“Although omicron infections appear to be milder, we continue to urge caution because the virus is spreading more actively than ever,” Etienne said, warning that it can be serious and fatal in people who are not fully vaccinated or have pre-existing conditions.

“Ómicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths and even the less serious cases are flooding health centers. The new wave of infections is by no means light for our health systems,” he stressed.

Before the new wave of Covid-19, the OPS He renewed the call to get vaccinated and maintain the use of masks and social distancing.

More than 60% of the inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean have their complete anticovid vaccination schedule, but 10 countries did not achieve the goal of 40% of the population immunized by December 31, 2021. Among them, Haiti is the only which did not reach 20%, the minimum threshold to care for health workers and the most vulnerable population.

The goal of OPS is to vaccinate at least 70% of the population of the Americas by mid-2022.


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