Just a few weeks ago, Covid-19 was spreading with alarming ease across a cluster of nations in South America, overwhelming hospital systems and killing thousands of people daily.
Suddenly, the region that had been the epicenter of the pandemic is breathing a sigh of relief.
New infections have fallen sharply in nearly every nation in South America as vaccination rates have ramped up. The reprieve has been so sharp and fast, even as the Delta variant wreaks havoc elsewhere in the world, that experts can’t quite explain it.
Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Uruguay and Paraguay experienced dramatic surges of cases in the first months of the year, just as vaccines started to arrive in the region. Containment measures were uneven and largely lax because governments were desperate to jump-start languishing economies.
“Now the situation has cooled across South America,” said Carla Domingues, an epidemiologist who ran Brazil’s immunization program until 2019. “It’s a phenomenon we don’t know how to explain.”
In Brazil, which had a slow, chaotic vaccine rollout, nearly 64 percent of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, a rate that exceeds that of the United States.
In Chile and Uruguay, more than 70 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
As cases have dropped, schools in much of the region have resumed in-person classes. Airports are becoming busier as more people have started traveling for work and leisure.
The drop in caseloads led the United Nations this past week to provide a more optimistic projection of economic growth in the region. It now expects economies in Latin America and the Caribbean to grow by 5.9 percent this year, a slight increase from its 5.2 estimate in July.