In Costa Rica, officials are encouraging people infected with the coronavirus not to vote in the upcoming national elections. Halfway around the world, Beijing is locking down residential communities as the country eagerly awaits the start of the Winter Olympics on February 4.
In Latin America and Asia, where the omicron variant is making its latest appearance, some countries are imposing such restrictions while others are loath to impose new limits on populations already depleted by previous constraints.
Omicron quickly swept through places it first hit, such as South Africa, the UK and the US, pushing daily cases far higher than at any time during the pandemic.
The Americas reported nearly 7.2 million new COVID infections and more than 15,000 COVID-related deaths in the past week, the Pan American Health Organization said Wednesday. Coronavirus infections across the Americas nearly doubled between Jan. 1 and Jan. 8, from 3.4 million cases to 6.1 million, PAHO said.
Infections are accelerating in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru, and hospitalizations are increasing in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said. The Caribbean islands are seeing their biggest increase in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, Etienne noted.
“Although omicron infections appear to be milder, we continue to urge caution as the virus is spreading more actively than ever before,” said Etienne.
Infections are also rising in Asia, notably in the Philippines, which has seen its worst coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks.
Countries in both regions are looking for a mix of restrictions that their exhausted populations will accept and that will not inflict undue damage on their economies.
“We are already three years into the pandemic and the population is tired” said the Brazilian president of the Council of State Secretariats for Health, Carlos Lula. “There is no room for many restrictions. We will have to face a third wave with precautions like masking, distancing and vaccination. »
Argentina and Mexico have also largely ruled out imposing national restrictions, instead banking on their vaccination campaigns and the seemingly less severe symptoms of the omicron variant.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has just emerged from a week of isolation after his second coronavirus infection last year, played down the threat. “It is demonstrable that this variant does not have the same gravity as the previous one, the delta”, Lopez Obrador said this week.
Antonio Perez, 67, runs a small stand in a Mexico City market where he sells notebooks, pens and other school supplies. He was forced to close his store for three months at the start of the pandemic, which rocked him financially. But he agreed with the government’s decision at the time – a time when little was known about the spread of the virus and no one was vaccinated – and with the hands-off approach now, so that most of the population is vaccinated and that there is less pressure on hospitals.
Vaccination, masks and social distancing are the way to go now, he said, speaking through his own N95 mask. “I don’t think you can do anything else.”
In Costa Rica, public health concerns clash with constitutional guarantees for the February 6 presidential and legislative elections. Authorities admit they cannot prevent people from voting, but Eugenia Zamora, president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, recently told the media that those who test positive for coronavirus should “abstention” to go and vote.