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Venezuela: COVID-19 outbreak overwhelms health system - Risk report – May 2020

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On 11 March 2020, WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. All but a few countries have recorded cases of COVID-19. Containment measures to control the spread of the Coronavirus have had a deep impact on the global economy and brought global travel to a virtual standstill. To date, the country with the highest number of recorded cases is the US with over 1.6 million cases, followed by Brazil with over 374,000 cases and Russia with over 362,000 cases. Worldwide, more than 348,000 people have died due to COVID-19, 98,000 of them in the US (Johns Hopkins University 26/05/2020). According to WHO, the Americas are currently at the centre of the outbreak (Reuters 26/05/2020).

In Venezuela, the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on 13 March 2020 and containment measures were introduced over the following weeks. An increase in cases is likely, due to an inconsistent adherence to the lockdown, limited PCR testing, and limitations on regular access to hygiene related to water shortages. There are further concerns related to the return of Venezuelan migrants and refugees to Venezuela.

There is a high risk that the country’s health system will be overwhelmed by even a moderate increase in COVID-19 patients requiring specialist medical services:

• The health system has severely limited capacity. Medical facilities are debilitated by shortages of medical supplies, water, and electricity, and thousands of health professionals have left the country.

• Epidemiological monitoring of COVID-19 is largely dependent on rapid tests with low sensitivity. There are only two authorized laboratories that use the WHOrecommended PCR tests.

• Food insecurity and insufficient access to clean water inhibit the population’s capacity to cope with an outbreak of COVID-19 and extended containment measures.

• Humanitarian response capacities are further impacted by access restrictions.