PAHO encourages virtual Christmas, warns travel remains “too risky”

PAHO encourages virtual Christmas, warns travel remains “too risky”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis Dr Marco Espinal has urged citizens and residents in Latin American and the Caribbean region to avoid non-essential travel over the Yuletide season, warning it remains “too risky”.

The Bahamas has experienced low-double-digit cases per day since last Friday.

However, the country recorded 38 cases on Wednesday, exactly two weeks after Thanksgiving.

Local health officials have said the impact of the holiday could be seen one or two inoculation periods — two to three weeks — after the event.

Espinal encouraged the communities of the region to undertake “virtual Christmas” experiences in an effort to minimize the surge of cases in many jurisdictions as a result of the Thanksgiving holiday.

PAHO Director of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis Dr Marco Espinal during a virutal press briefing on December 9, 2020. (FILE PHOTO)

“I think the advice is if we can avoid traveling and only to undertake essential traveling, we should avoid it,” he said during a PAHO virtual press briefing on Wednesday.

“It is much better to spend many years [forgoing] holidays than to have one that could be very negative for us.

“So, if we can spare this one and maybe do holiday season, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve on Zoom or on Skype or on any other virtual meetings, I think that is important.

“Traveling is risky. We have seen that. There are so many calls in the United States about Thanksgiving.

“If we expect a larger surge at the Christmas holidays, so while we understand the need to celebrate, see loved ones and spend some time, it is important to think also around health.

“Many countries in the Caribbean have kept the virus at bay with excellent mitigation actions and prevention actions recommended by PAHO and WHO (the World Health Organization), but the race is not yet [over].

“The vaccine, as the previous speaker was saying, is not going to come tomorrow.

“You heard that it is going to take more than a year to vaccinate the entire world, so we are not going to go back to the normality immediately and there is an increased risk, so the advice is not to relax the measures, to continue protecting ourselves, to continue avoiding risky situations because this virus can kill. It also can be mild, but it can also kill.

“So, let’s [consider] this before undertaking traveling that is non-essential.”

Cases have surged in the United States, with a reported 100,000-plus new infections per day over the Thanksgiving holiday and more expected due to travel in the coming days and weeks.

Cases in the US topped 200,000 for the first time on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

A vaccine has yet to be approved for widespread use, though there one is expected to be available before the end of the year.

Pfizer and BioNTech submitted applications for emergency use last month.