Countries across Latin America are opening up and returning to some semblance of normality as new COVID-19 cases and daily death tallies fall sharply.
There have been more than 56.6 million COVID-19 cases in Latin America over the past two years, but the recent numbers have been encouraging. On April 19, the region of 422 million people recorded 36,000 new infections and 243 deaths. Some countries, like Uruguay, have stopped reporting daily figures.
"In Argentina and Uruguay, the number of daily deaths due to COVID-19 has decreased a lot, thanks to vaccines. Recently in Argentina, it was the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that we had a complete day without a death," said Flor Fasanella, a pharmacist who recently moved to Argentina from Uruguay and specializes in integrative medicine.
Vaccines have played a key role in containing the pandemic, Fasanella said. Argentina uses six different vaccines, including two produced by China, Sinopharm and CanSino.
In Argentina, the use of face masks is no longer mandatory in schools or open spaces. In indoor spaces, it is up to the managers to decide on face mask requirements.
"We are, at the moment, (seeing) the lowest (hospital) bed occupancy from the pandemic. The… low contagion and increased vaccination give us the possibility of taking a step forward in returning to life and to normality," said Horacio Rodriguez, mayor of Buenos Aires, when he announced the relaxation of pandemic measures in the Argentine capital.
Chile's health ministry has revoked the requirement for PCR tests and vaccinations for international travelers arriving in the country.
"These results are largely due to the successful vaccination process and a long-standing vaccination culture and vaccination infrastructure that the country has had in place for several decades," Sebastian Ugarte, director of the Critical Care Medicine Program at Andres Bello University in the Chilean capital Santiago, told China Daily.
The situation is similar in the northern part of Latin America. Colombia reported one COVID-19-related death on April 20. In Cuba, the virus looks like something from the past.
"In Cuba, the virus is under control. It is a topic that is no longer talked about in the daily lives of Cubans," said Rene Duarte-Rodriguez, manager at Elegancia Suites, a hotel in Havana. "COVID-19 was extraordinarily strong and we had an overly aggressive peak, but we passed that stage. Vaccinations have helped a lot."
However, some experts said the relaxation of pandemic measures should be done with care in the Latin American region.
"It is somehow good that some rules are softened, but I think that you have to have the face mask in your pocket, very close to you," said Di Pietrantonio, a medical doctor and epidemiology specialist from Buenos Aires.
Pietrantonio noted that in most places in Latin America, the third COVID-19 vaccine dose has been offered, and even a fourth dose is being offered to the most vulnerable.
As for Chinese vaccines, many of which are distributed across the region, Pietrantonio said China has achieved a production standard that has been the envy of the rest of the world. "China has shown in recent years that its labs have grown a lot in vaccine research, but also in the development of vaccines. Such is the case of Sinopharm's vaccines, which have proven to be as effective as the rest of the vaccines," he said.
In the southern cone of the region, experts like Pietrantonio said the authorities and the public should remain vigilant of the virus and its variants despite the relaxation of pandemic mandates. Winter is about to start in that part of the world, and COVID-19 and influenza viruses should be closely watched.