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Growing COVID-19 impact in the Americas a major concern, says global Red Cross President

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Geneva/Panama, 1 July 2020 – The continued rapid spread of COVID-19 in the Americas and its aggravating influence on disasters and other health emergencies in the region is “extremely concerning”, according to the President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, IFRC President Francesco Rocca highlighted his concern about a growing apathy in some parts of the world about the virus:

“We have said from the beginning that ‘None of us are safe until all of us are safe’. That remains true. The first wave is not over, and we haven’t yet reached the peak of this outbreak.”

While in some parts of the world COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted, the situation in many parts of the Americas is worsening. With already more than 5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 240,000 deaths, the Americas is the region most affected by the virus.

Now, there is growing concern that the health emergency caused by the virus could worsen with the arrival of the southern winter, the South American flu season, and the hurricane season in the Caribbean.

President Rocca said: “Disasters do not stop. Across Central America and the Caribbean, we are working intensely, together with Red Cross Societies, to prepare for the hurricane season. However, the isolation and quarantine measures that are necessary for halting the virus are making the task of preparedness even more difficult. And at the same time, our response teams are already very active in dealing with the pandemic.”

The pandemic is also placing immense pressure on health care and management systems in the region and is having an impact on the ability of health systems and aid groups to respond to other outbreaks, such as dengue. Increasingly, Red Cross volunteers and staff are seeing a co-occurrence of COVID-19 and dengue in many communities, with both diseases affecting the same vulnerable groups, especially people living in overcrowded and underserviced urban areas. The impact of COVID-19 can overshadow the severity of dengue outbreaks by diverting the attention of health professionals from maintaining dengue control at the community level.

COVID-19 is also having an impact on migration. Several countries in Central and South America have experienced changes in migratory flows as a consequence of restrictive measures taken in the context of COVID-19. For example, in Central America migrants are blocked in a number of transit countries due to border closures. In other countries, there is a visible trend of “voluntary returns” of migrants to countries of origin, because of a loss of income opportunities and worsening of livelihood conditions in transit and destination countries.