PAHO Director calls on countries of the Americas to intensify COVID-19 preparedness and response activities

Brazil announced the first imported case of the new coronavirus in Latin America.
Washington, DC, February 26, 2020 (PAHO) – The Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Carissa F. Etienne, today recommended that countries intensify their plans to prepare and respond to COVID-19 given the appearance of cases of new coronavirus disease in the Region of the Americas.

The Ministry of Health of Brazil confirmed the country’s first case of COVID-19 on February 26. The patient is a 61-year old man who recently returned from travel to Italy, where an outbreak of the virus has been ongoing since last week. So far, COVID-19 has already affected 81,109 people in 38 countries of the world, 78 191 of them in China, according to the World Health Organization.

“For several weeks, countries in the Americas have been preparing for the possible importation of cases of COVID-19. There are measures in place for detecting, diagnosing and caring for patients with disease,” said Dr. Etienne. “A strong emphasis on stopping transmission continues to be an important objective while recognizing that the situation may vary from country to country and will require tailored responses.” 

“A multisectoral response to ensure strengthened surveillance, health service readiness, preventing spread, and maintaining essential services, are key interventions to slow transmission and save lives. Countries of the Americas have already been working on these areas since 2009 as part of their pandemic influenza plans. PAHO stands ready to support countries in rolling out these plans,” she added

COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person through droplets and in contact with contaminated surfaces. The disease is spread primarily by people who already show symptoms. Current information suggests that a single infected person can infect between 1 to 4 close contacts.
In the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean, the impact on health services may be significant with the possibility that health services may become overwhelmed, including a high demand for specialized hospital services such as intensive care.  

First case in Latin America 

The Ministry of Health of Brazil has confirmed that the patient with COVID-19 infection had recently returned from Italy. Brazilian authorities are taking measures to prevent further spread of the disease including a careful investigation of all relevant information and following up with anyone who may have come in contact with the infected patient. 

The first imported case of COVID-19 in the Region of the Americas was identified on 21 January in the United States, and a few days later, on 25 January, Canada reported its first confirmed case. Since then, there have been 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North America.

What people can do

Meanwhile, there are simple precautions that everyone can take to prevent respiratory illness, including COVID-19:

•    Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizing gel.

•    When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with your flexed elbow or with a tissue; dispose of the tissue immediately and wash your hands.

•    Avoid close contact with anyone who has coughing and fever.

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