Public Radio from UA Little Rock
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Peruvian Officials More Than Double COVID Death Toll, Saying They Undercounted

A worker digs a grave in the San Juan Bautista cemetery in Iquitos, Peru, amid the coronavirus pandemic. On May 31, 2021, Peru announced a sharp increase in its COVID-19 death toll, saying there have been more than 180,000 fatalities since the pandemic hit the country early last year.
A worker digs a grave in the San Juan Bautista cemetery in Iquitos, Peru, amid the coronavirus pandemic. On May 31, 2021, Peru announced a sharp increase in its COVID-19 death toll, saying there have been more than 180,000 fatalities since the pandemic hit the country early last year.

Government officials in Peru announced on Monday the country's official COVID-19 death toll had been far lower than the real number. Instead of 69,342 Peruvians perishing from COVID-19 as of May 22, as the Peruvian government previously reported, more than 180,000 actually have died from the virus.

Officials blamed the undercounting on "a lack of testing that made it difficult to confirm whether a person had died due to the virus or some other cause," Reuters reports. The new figure means Peru has the highest per-capita death toll in the world.

The news comes at the end of a holiday weekend in the U.S., where millions of Americans resumed travel previously put on hold due to the pandemic. The U.S. continues to see COVID-19 cases decline with the rise of vaccination rates.

But in Brazil, Argentina, Peru and many other countries in Latin America, government and health officials are still struggling to contain the virus.

On Monday, Argentinian officials reported that the country had seen a total of 3.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 77,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the World Health Organization. The devastating infection rate in Argentina has driven organizers of the Copa America soccer tournament to look elsewhere for a host country.

CONMEBOL, the governing body of the tournament, announced on Sunday that they dropped Argentina as the host country with less than two weeks to go until the start of the event.

The tournament, which involves 10 South American countries, was originally set to be hosted by Argentina and Colombia. Tournament officials dropped Colombia earlier in May because of social unrest.

The competitions now looks to be moving to Brazil, where coronavirus conditions are no better. By early Tuesday, there have been more than 16.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 462,791 deaths recorded in Brazil, according to Johns Hopkins.

Thousands of protestors took to the streets of Brazil over the weekend, demanding more vaccines and President Jair Bolsonaro's impeachment over the handling of the virus.

Protestors held signs depicting Bolsonaro as a virus and with messages that read in Portuguese: "Bolsonaro generates genocide."

The country's Senate is set to hold a government inquiry into the handling of the pandemic and the stop-and-go start of the country's immunization program.

Bolsonaro long resisted lockdown measures undertaken across the world to contain the virus, but on Monday the federal government announced it was temporarily banning the entry of foreigners "of any nationality" into Brazil.

Latin America has vaccine access gaps

Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa F. Etienne blamed the record high death rates in Latin America and Caribbean countries on the "glaring gaps" in access to COVID-19 vaccines.

As of May 19, Etienne said only 3% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The U.S. has fully vaccinated more than half of American adults.

"The progress we're seeing in the U.S. is a testament to the power of safe and effective COVID vaccines, but it underscores the vital importance of accelerating access to vaccines throughout our region, so that other countries can fully immunize their populations," Etienne said. "We urgently need more vaccines for Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that has been put to the test by this pandemic."

Latin American and Caribbean countries are largely reliant on COVAX for their immunization programs. The international effort purchases mass quantities of vaccine from manufacturers, then distributes them equitably to countries based on their populations.

Peru is set to get 1 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses from COVAX by June 4.

In Argentina, officials are manufacturing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine to boost vaccination levels. Argentina's President Alberto Fernández said Monday during an interview that, "If things go as planned, in June we expect to have more than 2 million doses of Sputnik V manufactured in Argentina."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: June 2, 2021 at 11:00 PM CDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled Jair Bolsonaro's last name in two places as Bolsnaro and Bolsanaro.