BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — After a reprieve of months, confirmed cases of COVID-19 are surging in the southern tip of South America. But officials in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay hope high vaccination rates mean this latest wave will not be as deadly as previous ones.

At the same time, there is concern that many people are not ready to once again take on the prevention measures that authorities say are needed to ensure cases remain manageable.

Cases have been steadily increasing for weeks, largely fueled by the BA.2 version of the omicron variant. In Chile, the number of weekly confirmed cases more than doubled by late May when compared to the beginning of the month. In Argentina, cases rose 146 percent in the same period, while in Uruguay, the increase was almost 200 percent.

Although the number of positive tests remain far lower than in previous waves, experts say the increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is a reminder that the pandemic is far from over.

Argentina’s health minister, Carla Vizzotti, recently said that Argentina is “starting a fourth wave of COVID-19” while in Chile, Health Minister Begoña Yarza characterized the current moment as “an inflection point in the pandemic” and in Uruguay, President Luis Lacalle Pou, said he was “worried” and called on everyone to be “vigilant.”

The countries are part of a regional trend as cases have been rising across the continent.

“COVID is again on the rise in the Americas,” Carissa Etienne, the head of the Pan American Health Organization, said during an online news conference last week.

For many residents in the region, the sharp increase has meant they suddenly have to think about the coronavirus again.

“There were numerous cases in my family after my birthday last week,” Marina Barroso, 40, said outside a testing center in a Buenos Aires suburb. “The number of cases has really shot up.”

The high increase in cases has yet to translate to significant numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. Officials are crediting high vaccination rates in the region as more than 80 percent of the population in the three countries have received at least two doses.

“We are in a very different situation from the previous waves since so much of the population is immunized,” Claudia Salgueira, the president of the Argentine Society of Infectious Diseases (SADI), said.

Uruguay has seen double the number of people in ICU from 1.5% to 3%. The president of the Uruguayan Society of Intensive Care Medicine claimed that although this was a rise, it wasn’t as high as could be expected. The credit goes to vaccination. As the pandemics go by, with more precautions and medical aid the gap between recovery and hospitalization is decreasing. The death toll has lowered drastically. 

Chile has managed to get a large number of citizens vaccinated with booster shots by placing restrictions on those who eschew the shots. In June, the government blocked ‘mobility pass’ for anyone who hadn’t taken their new booster shot after six months. This restricted entry into many public spaces like bars.

Some people are even stating how they were scared before but with three doses it does feel more protected. It has become harder to get tested. Citizens are expressing concern on how the testing infrastructure needs to be maintained and enforced because the virus is here to stay for a while.  

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