Experts have long warned that Latin America is particularly susceptible to the spread of COVID-19. Now, many of them are watching their worst fears confirmed as the virus rips through vulnerable countries and communities across the region. This week, Director of the Pan American Health Organization Carissa Etienne declared that Latin America “has become the epicenter of the COVID pandemic.”
Brazil, which has the most cases in South America, has been trying to get a handle on the virus for weeks. They reported the highest daily COVID-19 death toll for five straight days this week, with 1,086 casualties on Wednesday alone. So far, more than 25,697 people have died, drawing attention to President Jair Bolsonaro’s aloof reaction to the virus. Earlier during the pandemic, he dismissed it as a “little flu” and has fought governors to open states back up. More recently, he called the virus “a war,” but sent mixed signals—urging boosts to the economy and appearing in public without a mask.
Meanwhile, other countries in Latin America are seeing their numbers rise at alarming rates. Mexico, Chile and Peru have been struggling to contain the virus, according to BBC. In Central America, Nicaragua reported a sharp increase in cases, with 480 infections in the country as of Tuesday. Yet, despite increases, most experts think Latin America hasn’t reached a peak yet. The most intense point in the fight against the coronavirus is still weeks away, and a University of Washington study predicts Brazil’s death roll will reach 125,000 by early August.
But that’s, unfortunately, not the only crisis looming over Latin America. On Wednesday, the U.N. World Food Programme released figures that show approximately 14 million people in the region could go hungry because of the pandemic. The data indicates that 11 countries in the region, including the Caribbean, saw increases in food insecurity, with the numbers jumping from 10 million people suffering from food insecurity compared to 3.4 million last year. The forecast is bleak, but the World Food Programme’s regional director Miguel Barreto for Latin America and the Caribbean suggested that countries could unite and work together to ensure the best outcomes.
“Working together,” he said, “we can minimize the risk of food insecurity and protect the most vulnerable countries and communities from the potentially devastating effects of the pandemic.”