(CMC) — The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F Etienne, said maintaining social distancing measures, improving surveillance, and strengthening health systems are the three keys to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas, including the Caribbean.

Dr Etienne said during the past week there were 732,000 new cases globally, and of these, more than 250,000 new cases were in Latin American countries, which she described as “a serious concern that should serve as a clarion call to redouble our efforts.

“The situation we face is dire, but not hopeless – as long as our approach to defeating the virus is based on solidarity. We must work together, share resources and apply the proven strategies we have learned along the way,” she told reporters at Tuesday’s press briefing.

She said the Americas, “a region of massive inequalities,” is facing simultaneous health, economic and social emergencies from the pandemic, which must be addressed in combination to stop COVID-19.

These include sharply rising numbers of cases, strained economies, and vulnerable groups at greater risk, such as indigenous populations, migrant groups, and people with chronic diseases.

She said key lessons from the pandemic on social distancing are to “be careful”.

“Do not open too fast, or you risk a resurgence of COVID-19 that could erase the advantage gained over the past few months. Consider a geographic approach to lockdown and opening up based on the transmission in specific locales as appropriate,” she said.

Regarding surveillance, Dr Etienne said ‘even though testing capacity is not perfect, virtually all places in the region have sufficient data to track and monitor where the virus is spreading.

“This must drive our decision-making. It will also help us better target much needed social support measures. Use data to tailor your response, protect vulnerable communities and focus your efforts where new infections are on the rise. Preventive efforts are more effective when informed by surveillance,” she said.