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Americas COVID-19 - Response Update #24, 18 February 2021

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Situational Highlights

Twelve months after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Latin America, the virus has spread throughout the entire region, leaving no country in the Americas untouched.

By end of January, more than 47.1 million people had contracted the coronavirus, which represents around two million infections per week. Brazil remains among the countries with the highest total incidence of COVID-19, ranking third in confirmed cases (with 9.5 million cases as of 8 February) and second in the number of deaths.

The past few weeks have seen a rise in the number of coronavirus infections across South America, with the total number of active cases currently at 16.4 million.

Hospitalizations are on the rise in Colombia (with 2.1 million cases), while death rates are cause for concern in Mexico.

Panama remains the second country in the Americas with the highest incidence, after the United States. Across the Caribbean, larger islands including the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Cuba continue to drive new infections.

Amid this surge in infection rates, many countries are tightening their border restrictions. However, despite that trend, asylum systems remain entirely or partially operational in some 20 countries throughout the Americas. In Mexico, for example, 6,506 asylum applications were filed in January –a significant rise from the 5,986 claims filed during the same month a year earlier. Also, Guatemala recently announced the establishment of a new asylum unit with a beefed up capacity to receive, process, and adjudicate asylum claims in the country. You can learn more about it HERE.

Initiatives to offer alternative pathways to regularization are also multiplying, despite the pandemic. On February 8, Colombia announced an initiative to provide ten-year temporary protection status to Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the country. More than half of the 1.7 million Venezuelans currently in the country do not have regular status, which of course hinders their access to essential services, protection and assistance. The High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, applauded the Colombian initiative, saying, “This decision serves as a model of pragmatism and humanity.” Read more HERE.

The country’s Temporary Protection Status will provide Venezuelans in the country access to basic services, including the national health system and COVID-19 vaccination plans.

Regularization is also key to long-term solutions, which are mutually beneficial to both displaced people and their host countries. For example, giving refugees and migrants access to the job market helps ease their dependence on humanitarian assistance while at the same time allowing them to contribute to the post-COVID-19 socio-economic recovery.

Dominican Republic has launched a regularization pathway for Venezuelans who entered the country regularly between January 2014 and March 2020. Online applications are slated to be open for one month. In Peru, UNHCR is supporting migration authorities via a massive SMS campaign aimed at inciting those in irregular situations to pre-register for regularisation.