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Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said in a press briefing in Washington, D.C., that her researchers “are particularly concerned that the number of new cases reported last week in Brazil was the highest for a seven-day period, since the outbreak began.”
“Both Peru and Chile are also reporting a high incidence,” she added. “Now is not the time to relax restrictions or scale back preventive strategies. Now is the time to stay strong, remain vigilant, and aggressively implement proven public health measures.”
A new U.S. travel ban on Brazil will go into effect late Thursday, as Latin America continues to see a dramatic surge in cases coupled with a nasty rise in corruption. The Trump administration “has determined that the Federative Republic of Brazil is experiencing widespread, ongoing person-to-person transmission” of the virus, according to a White House statement released Sunday.
The U.S. Defense Department said Brazil will be added to a list of travel-restricted countries currently including Iran, China, and most European countries, which have all been highly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
American citizens, legal permanent residents, and their immediate families who are returning to the U.S. after recently visiting Brazil or other travel-restricted countries may still reenter by going through a process for enhanced medical screenings at designated airports.
“As we reopen the U.S. economy, the Trump administration is continuing to take aggressive measures to protect the American people from COVID-19,” said Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf. “By adding Brazil to the list of travel-restricted nations based on a careful and thorough analysis of data, we are proactively mitigating another risk factor to our communities. While this may be disruptive to some travelers, action is needed to protect the public from further spread of the virus.”
To accommodate the inclusion of Brazil, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport were added to the list of now 15 U.S. airports currently receiving flights from travel-restricted nations.
At her press conference Tuesday, Etienne also stressed the need for “aggressive preventive measures to protect people with diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases from the new coronavirus,” suggesting implementing telemedicine could decrease the risk of contagion in waiting rooms.
As healthcare workers in Latin America being prioritized to treat the influx of COVID-19 patients, those who suffer from non-communicable diseases lack access to care due to disruptions in the health system. The PAHO said, before the pandemic, 81 percent of all deaths Latin America were due to non-communicable diseases, with 39 percent of these deaths were premature before age 70.
Corruption in Latin America is on the rise amid the pandemic, as politicians from Panama to Argentina have been forced to resign in recent weeks for allegedly profiteering off the crisis, making fraudulent purchases of ventilators, masks, and other medical supplies, the New York Times reported.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has faced widespread scrutiny both domestically and from abroad for flouting the advice of his own public health advisers, mingling and taking photos among large crowds of supporters during the pandemic.
Dismissing the coronavirus as a “little flu,” Bolsonaro has also condemned state governors for imposing stay-at-home measures and other social distancing measures and instead has encouraged Brazilians to get back to work.
Meanwhile, hospitals have become overwhelmed across Brazil, the largest country in South America, and in the city of São Paulo, officials say the public healthcare system is reaching near collapse.
On Tuesday, police raided the home of Rio de Janeiro’s governor as part of a federal coronavirus corruption probe.
Gov. Wilson Witzel, once an ally-turned-foe of Bolsonaro, is accused of using his wife’s law firm to embezzle money from government contractors hired to build field hospitals amid the pandemic, according to Reuters.
Price gouging on medical equipment is rampant. Prosecutors in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, allege city officials knowingly purchased expired N95 masks at prices 10 times their worth to benefit politically connected middlemen.
In Colombia, 14 out of the country’s 32 governors are under investigation for corruption plots involving the embezzlement of relief funds or awarding no-bid contracts, according to the Times. Bolivia’s health minister was arrested for allegedly buying more than 170 ventilators at inflated prices.