By Laura Gamba
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) - Cases in the Americas of the omicron coronavirus variant nearly doubled in the past week, reaching 6.1 million as of Jan. 8 from 3.4 million on Jan. 1, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne said Wednesday.
The omicron variant has put the region under increased pressure, with some countries scaling up restrictions, strengthening mask rules and announcing new vaccine requirements.
Omicron has reached nearly every country in the Americas, and cases are expected to surge across the region with consequences that remain unclear. Currently, 42 countries in the Americas have detected the variant.
Infections with omicron should not be seen as a "simple little flu," said Etienne in a media briefing, but as a severe concern for the saturation of health care centers, clinics and hospitals.
“We must make sure they are protected from the worst consequences of this virus,” she said.
The PAHO director said a third vaccination dose will “help reinforce health workers’ ability to withstand exposure to the virus.”
In the US, omicron has shattered records for new cases.
Quebec, Canada’s second-most populous province, has announced a plan to impose fines on unvaccinated residents in the coming weeks.
In South America, Argentina seems to be the country worst hit by the new variant, registering more than half of the region’s daily cases over the past week in just 11% of its population.
Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil are also experiencing significant surges in new cases, the health agency said.
“Omicron infections can be lethal, especially for the immunocompromised and the unvaccinated," Etienne said, encouraging people to get vaccinated.
More than 60% of the population has been fully vaccinated, making it the region with the highest percentage of vaccination against COVID-19.
However, PAHO officials said Wednesday that there are still minors and people with pre-existing diseases who need protection.