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Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization and WHO Regional Director for the Americas, speaks during a news conference at PAHO headquarters, in Washington, on March 6, 2020.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Latin America and the Caribbean now account for 50 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in the Americas, and the number of registered cases continues to accelerate, the World Health Organization’s regional director Carissa Etienne said on Tuesday.

“This is a pandemic of staggering proportions and we have no option but to continue to put all our energy into controlling it,” she said in a virtual briefing from Washington with Pan American Health Organization directors.

PAHO wished Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro a speedy recovery from his positive test result for COVID-19.

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“The message is that this virus in unpredictable and does not respect race, class or people in power, despite security around any president,” said PAHO director for communicable diseases Marcos Espinal.

For Brazil, the infection of its president should reinforce the need to strengthen implementations of social distancing recommendations and the use of masks to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, he said.

Two months ago, the United States accounted for 75 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in the Americas, she said, warning that the WHO sees acceleration of cases in several U.S. states, most of Central America and most of South America.

Some of Latin America’s most persistent problems have contributed to the scale of the pandemic in the region, Etienne said: inequality, political division and health systems that have been weakened by years of underinvestment.

Hundreds of scientists say there is evidence that the coronavirus in smaller particles in the air can infect people and are calling for the World Health Organization to revise recommendations, the New York Times has reported. Reuters

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