COVID-19 cases falling in U.S., Canada, but still rising in Latam, says PAHO

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BRASILIA (Reuters) - While coronavirus infections are finally decreasing in the United States and Canada after weeks of unrelenting rise, cases and deaths continue to increase in Latin American countries, the Pan American Health Organization said on Wednesday.

In Mexico cases are still rising, particularly in states that drew tourism in the holiday season, such as Guerrero, Quintana Roo, Nayarit and Baja California del Sur, the regional branch of the World Health Organization said in a briefing.

Across the Caribbean, most nations are seeing a reprieve in COVID-19 infections, but larger islands like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Cuba continue to see rising numbers of new infections, it said.

In South America, Colombia reported the highest incidence of cases relative to its population over the past week, followed by Brazil, where the city of Manaus has been grappling with a surge in both cases and deaths, driven up by a new Amazon variant of the virus.

The new Brazil variant, as well as two others first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, have spread to 20 countries in the Americas, though their frequency is still limited, PAHO director Carissa Etienne said.

COVID-19 vaccines delivered by COVAX, a coalition led by the WHO and the Gavi vaccine alliance to ensure equitable access to the shots, will begin to arrive in the region in the second half of February, she said.

Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and El Salvador will receive a first lot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, said PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa, while 35.3 million doses of AstraZeneca's shot will start arriving as soon as the WHO grants it emergency use approval.

The aim is to provide for 20% of the population in the countries participating in COVAX to protect those most at risk.

But Etienne warned that "vaccine doses are limited and will remain in short supply everywhere at first."

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)