COVID cases decline for 6th week in Americas, deaths still rise -health agency

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Healthcare workers are pictured at a testing center for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Buenos Aires, Argentina January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

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BRASILIA, Feb 16 (Reuters) - New COVID-19 infections across the Americas region fell by 31% in the last week, marking a sixth successive week of declines, but deaths are still on the rise, up 5.6%, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

Half of the region's 34,000 deaths were reported in the United States, as countries across the region saw deaths surge after a rise in hospitalizations and intensive care admissions driven by the easily spread Omicron variant of the virus.

COVID deaths tend to lag new infections and hospitalizations by a few weeks, which is why they continue to rise as cases fall.

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In South America, Brazil registered the highest numbers of deaths, setting a record for the current wave.

"Undoubtedly, Omicron overtook us," PAHO director Carissa Etienne said in a briefing, noting that the tools developed to fight the pandemic are not working as well to stop transmission of the new and more contagious variant.

COVID-19 has been deadlier in the Americas than in any other region of the world, she said.

More than 2.5 million people have died in the Americas over the course of the pandemic, with over 100,000 people lost to COVID-19 in the first month of 2022.

"We are urging countries to focus on filling in critical gaps in vaccination coverage," Etienne said.

"Inaction is not an option when up to 34,000 people have died from this virus each week during the last weeks in the Americas," she said. "That means that up to 202 people have died every hour."

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Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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