Bolivia declares emergency after peak of COVID-19 cases

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The Bolivian government declared a health emergency on Thursday after the daily cases of COVID-19 almost quintupled in less than a week, despite the fact that the omicron variant has not yet been registered in the country.

In the last five days, new daily infections increased from 1,355 to 6,149, double the highest peak reported on June 10, according to the Ministry of Health. Until now the authorities have not reported the presence of the omicron variant in the country.

The hardest hit region – and also the most populated – is Santa Cruz, in the east, which accounts for 71% of the new cases in the country.

The national health emergency forces pharmacies to display their drug price list with maximum limits, shorten procedures to speed up medical care and increase the hiring of personnel and services to face the pandemic.

A “relaxation of biosecurity measures” and a strong attack from the “fourth wave” are the reasons for the increase, according to the Minister of Health, Jeyson Auza. Health authorities have reported a saturation of medical services, including intensive care units, and the mayors of several cities canceled the New Year celebrations.

Although wearing masks and maintaining social distancing in public places is mandatory, in recent weeks those measures have been relaxed to the point that all activities are normal, including street protests that draw crowds. One of the most massive was convened in support of the government and headed by President Luis Arce himself on November 29.

“An encouraging fact is that the fatality rate does not reach 1%, but that should not create a mirage of false security,” said Auza at a press conference.

Arce issued a decree last week that requires people to display a vaccination certificate before entering public places since January 1, but only 38% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the online research website Our World in Data.

With 11.5 million inhabitants, the country has registered more than 591,700 infections and 16,650 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to health authorities.

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