USHUAIA, Argentina: At the edge of Argentina in a city known as “The End of the World,” many thought they might be spared from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sitting far from the South American nation’s bustling capital, health workers in Ushuaia were initially able to contain a small outbreak among foreigners hoping to catch boats to the Antarctic at the start of the crisis.
But as Argentina passed 1 million virus cases on Monday, it is now smaller cities like Ushuaia that are seeing some of the most notable upticks.
Doctors have had to quadruple the number of beds for COVID-19 patients over the last month. At least 60 per cent of those tested recently are coming back positive for the virus.
“We were the example of the country,” said Dr Carlos Guglielmi, director of the Ushuaia Regional Hospital. “Evidently someone arrived with the coronavirus.”
Across Latin America, three other nations are expected to reach the 1 million case milestone in the coming weeks — Colombia, Mexico and Peru. The grim mark comes as Latin America continues to register some of the world’s highest daily case counts. And though some nations have seen important declines, overall there has been little relief, with cases dropping in one municipality only to escalate in another.
The trajectory is showing that the pandemic is likely to leave no corner of Latin America unscathed.
“The second wave is arriving without ever having finished the first,” said Dr Luis Jorge Hernández, a public health professor at the University of the Andes in Colombia.
Argentina has seen cases spiral despite instituting one of the world’s longest lockdowns. Colombia’s major cities have seen a dip, but smaller areas like the department of Caldas in the coffee region are only now reaching a peak.
Peru’s overall numbers have dropped, but officials recently reported 12 regions are spiking back up. Mexico, likewise, has seen a rise in a quarter of all states over the last week.
The result is that rather than a second virus wave like that being seen in Europe, epidemiologists anticipate a more sustained, plateau-like trend.
“Our countries are still getting out of the first wave,” said Dr Marcos Espinal, director of the Pan American Health Organization’s Department of Communicable Diseases. “A great part of the population remains exposed and community transmission continues.”
The virus’ cruel path through Latin America is a consequence of weak public health systems, social factors like poverty and poor government decisions early on that resulted in flawed or limited testing and little contact tracing. Today the region is home to half the 10 countries with the highest total cases around the globe.
Argentina initially registered low virus case numbers but now has one of the highest rates of new daily infections per capita, according to Our World in Data, a non-profit online scientific publication based at the University of Oxford. It is on par with several European countries that are experiencing a resurgence of the virus.
Dr Adolfo Rubinstein, a former Argentine health minister, said the nation depended too heavily on lockdowns as its primary means of controlling the virus, failing to purchase enough tests in the initial months of the pandemic.
Where the virus is appearing is also shifting. Initially, up to 90 per cent of the confirmed cases were in metropolitan Buenos Aires. Today, 65 per cent of Argentina’s cases are in its provinces and even faraway places like Ushuaia, authorities said.
“Now it is everywhere in the country,” Rubinstein said.
Dr Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Americas branch of the World Health Organization, warned recently that the coronavirus is appearing in places that were previously not affected, with high numbers popping up in regions like the English-speaking Caribbean.
“In many countries, the pandemic has also moved to less populated areas,” she said.
That can be seen not just in Argentina but in Colombia as well. The city of Manizales in a region known for its coffee farms now registers 440.98 cases per 100,000 residents, far higher than the nationwide average of 284.09 per 100,000, according to the Ministry of Health. Officials say the slower rise in cases allowed them to expand ICU capacity.
“Here we didn’t have a peak like in Europe,” Hernández said. “We had a plateau.”
Throughout the region, testing remains a hurdle. In Peru, officials have relied heavily on antibody tests to identify cases — even though the tests are not designed to make a diagnosis because they can only Read More – Source
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Dozens killed in suspected jihadist attack in Niger
Dozens of people were killed in an attack in Niger on Saturday, in a suspected jihadist attack.
The attack took place around 12:00 CET in the Tchomo-Bangou village in Tillabéri, a western region bordering Mali.
“The assailants surrounded the village and killed up to 50 people,” a local radio journalist said anonymously. “The wounded have been evacuated to the hospital in Ouallam.”
It came on the day provisional results for the first round of the presidential election, held on December 27, were released.
Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) and a former interior minister, is in the lead with 39.3 per cent of the votes. Bazoum has vowed to strengthen the country’s fight against Islamist groups.
The second round of the election is to be held on February 21.
Niger has been a target for jihadist attacks for years, particularly in the western and southeastern parts of the country.
On December 21, six days before the presidential poll, seven soldiers were killed in Tillabéri. In May 2020, twenty people, including children, were also killed in two of the region’s villages.
Niger votes in presidential and legislative elections
People in Niger began voting in the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Mohamed Bazoum, the right-hand man of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou is the favourite to win.
The sixty-year-old former interior minister is aiming for outright victory in the first round — something that no candidate has done before.
He’s focussing on security and education.
Over 7 million people are eligible to vote. But some voters, like Gambina Moumouni, simply want a president they can trust.
“We pray to Allah to choose us the president who has the most mercy for the people, a president who will not betray the country and who will not betray the trust of the people, that is our wish. It is also our wish that Allah may help to make the poor, the peasants, the (cattle) breeders happy.
Thirty candidates are standing including two former presidents and two former prime ministers, but according to seasoned observers in the region, the poll is arousing little enthusiasm among the population.
Niger is the world’s poorest according to the UN’s Human Development Index and also one of those hardest hit by climate change.
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