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WHO warns Latin American countries not to reopen too quickly
01:22 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Some Latin America nations are partially reopening this week, despite still recording thousands of coronavirus deaths and infections.

In Brazil, non-essential businesses can reopen Tuesday in the huge coastal city of Rio de Janeiro.

Churches, car shops and furniture and decoration stores are all permitted to open, while people will also be allowed to exercise along the city’s famous promenade and swim in the ocean. The easing of restrictions marks the beginning of six phases of reopening planned by officials.

Phase One is beginning as the state of Rio de Janeiro recorded more than 54,000 cases of the virus and 5,462 deaths. Last week, its death toll surpassed that reported across the whole of China during the epidemic.

Brazil has the second highest number of Covid-19 cases globally, having recorded at least 526,447 instances of the disease. Cases across the country multiplied by five across the month of May, according to Brazil’s Health Ministry.

Despite this, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro said he expected his city to “return to normal” by early August.

“If all parameters are followed, wearing masks and avoiding crowds, we will return to normal life, to the new normal, in August,” Marcelo Crivella said Monday.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly ignored the advice of the country’s medical authorities by participating in rallies and shaking hands with supporters.

He also dismissed the threat of coronavirus in March, calling it a “little flu.”

Deaths surge in Mexico

Mexico reopened several sectors of its economy on Monday, including the mining, construction and tourist industries.

On the same day, the country surpassed 10,000 virus-related deaths, becoming the seventh nation to do so.

Mexico’s newly reported cases and deaths continue to rise. The country has at least 93,435 recorded cases of the disease, yet officials have pushed ahead with easing the lockdown with a plan dubbed the “new normal.”

To mark the change, Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador began a tour on Monday in the state of Quintana Roo, where Cancún is located.

Obrador, who has not traveled since late March, said Mexico’s economy had to reopen “for the good of the people.” He added that the easing of the lockdown had to be managed cautiously and carefully.

Mexico has recorded the second highest number of deaths in Latin America.

Other countries reopening in the region include Ecuador, where some international and domestic flights resumed from 1 June.

A new epicenter

Other Latin American countries continue to enforce stringent lockdown measures.

Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra has extended the country’s national emergency until the end of June. Peru closed its borders in mid-March but has recorded at least 170,039 coronavirus cases.

Chile, which also remains under tight restrictions, has also been badly hit by the virus with at least 105,158 cases.

And in El Salvador, the government has been sending people who break a virus-related curfew to “quarantine centers” – a measure ruled unconstitutional by the country’s Supreme Court.

In late May, the Pan American Health Organization declared Latin America the world’s new coronavirus epicenter.

And on Monday, the World Health Organization said Central and South America had become “intense zones of transmission” for the virus.

“Five of the 10 countries worldwide reporting the highest new number of cases in the past 24 hours are in the Americas: Brazil, USA, Peru, Chile and Mexico,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program.

Ryan said the world had previously been focused on South Asia and Africa as potential Covid-19 hotspots.

Now “to a certain extent, the situation in those two settings are still difficult, but … stable,” he said. “Clearly the situation in many South American countries is far from stable. There’s been a rapid increase in cases, and those systems are coming under increasing pressure.”

“I would certainly characterize that Central and South America, in particular, have very much become the intense zones of transmission for this virus as we speak,” he added. “I don’t believe that we have reached the peak in that transmission, and at this point, I cannot predict when we will.”

CNN’s Chandler Thornton, Taylor Barnes, Claudia Rebaza and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.