‘Want the COVID-19 vaccine? Have a U.S. visa?’ Latinos travel north for the shot

By Anthony Esposito, Cassandra Garrison and Marco Aquino

MEXICO CITY/LIMA (Reuters) – “Want the COVID-19 vaccine? Have a U.S. visa? Contact us,” reads a travel agency advertisement, offering deals to Mexicans to fly to the United States to get inoculated.

From Mexico to far-flung Argentina, thousands of Latin Americans are booking flights to the United States to take advantage of one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, as rollouts in their own countries sputter.

Latin America is one of the regions worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with the death toll set to pass 1 million this month, and many do not want to wait any longer for their turn to get vaccinated.

Some people are going it alone, while others have tapped travel agencies, which have responded by offering packages that arrange the vaccine appointment, flights, hotel stay and even offer extras such as city and shopping tours.

Gloria Sanchez, 66, and her husband, Angel Menendez 69, traveled in late April to Las Vegas to get Johnson & Johnson’s single dose vaccine.

“We don’t trust the public health services in this country,” said Sanchez, now back in Mexico. “If we hadn’t traveled to the United States where I felt a little more comfortable I wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated here.”

A travel agent in Mexico City organized the trip for them and an associate in Las Vegas handled things on the U.S. side, Sanchez said.

The U.S.-based associate signed them up for a vaccine appointment, then drove them to a Las Vegas convention center where they presented their Mexican passports and received their shots.

“We decided to make it a vacation and we went for a whole week, walked like crazy, ate really expensive but good food, and did some shopping,” said Sanchez.

As demand has boomed, flight prices from Mexico to the United States have risen an average of 30%-40% since mid-March, said Rey Sanchez, who runs travel agency RSC Travel World.

“There are thousands of Mexicans and thousands of Latin Americans who have gone to the United States to get vaccinated,” he said, adding that the top destinations have been Houston, Dallas, Miami and Las Vegas.

Reuters was unable to find official data on how many Latin Americans are traveling to the United States to get vaccinated. Travelers do not generally state vaccination as a reason to travel.

But U.S. cities have caught on to the trend, which is ushering much needed business into cash-strapped hotels, restaurants and other service activities.

“Welcome to New York, your vaccine is waiting for you! We’ll administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at iconic sites across our city,” New York City’s government announced on Twitter on May 6.

The U.S. embassy in Peru recently advised residents on Twitter that travelers could visit the United States for medical treatment, including vaccinations.

Latin Americans who had traveled on a U.S. tourist visa that Reuters spoke to said they were able to obtain shots with IDs from their home countries.

As far south as Argentina, travel agencies are selling vaccination tourism trips.

An advertisement in Buenos Aires details the estimated cost of getting vaccinated in Miami: air ticket $2,000, hotel for a week $550, food $350, car rental $500, vaccine $0. For a total of $3,400.

NO HOPE OF A VACCINE SOON

While initially it was mostly wealthy Latin Americans looking to travel, increasingly people with more modest means are making bookings. For many, the cost of lengthy flights makes it a major undertaking.

“I’m getting money together to travel to California in June,” said a worker at a car parts store in Lima, who asked not to be named for fear it could jeopardize his travel plans. “Considering how things are going here, there’s no hope of a vaccine shot soon.”

The slow rollout of vaccinations in most Latin American countries was a common reason cited for traveling to the United States, said Sanchez.

With little to no infrastructure to make vaccines domestically, campaigns in Latin America have been hampered by supply delays and shortages. The United States has administered nearly 262 million vaccine doses, some 2.3 times the number of shots given in all of Latin America, which has roughly twice the population, according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Our World in Data.

Distrust in vaccination campaigns in Latin America is also a factor, said Sanchez.

Reports of batches of fake doses being seized by authorities or the required second dose not being available when it was time are some of the reasons Latin Americans gave for their distrust.

Vaccine tourism has fueled a jump in air travel to the United States, with fares for some last-minute flights doubling or even tripling since January, even as airlines increase capacity, according to Rene Armas Maes, commercial vice president at MIDAS Aviation, a London-based consultancy.

LATAM Airlines Group, the region’s largest carrier, said on Thursday it was seeing increased demand from South Americans seeking to travel to the United States to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Aeromexico said passenger traffic between Mexico and the United States increased 35% from March to April.

And American Airlines also said it had seen demand growing rapidly from parts of Latin America in recent months and it had increased capacity, particularly to Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

“We’re matching the increased demand in many of these markets, with additional frequencies, new routes or with the use of widebody aircraft, resulting in more capacity,” said American Airlines.

For 29-year-old Giuliana Colameo, the chance to get vaccinated was a relief after she and her boyfriend in Mexico City were both infected by the coronavirus in 2020.

They traveled to New York City where they got vaccinated at a pharmacy last month. She said they were the only two people getting the shots.

“When they give you the vaccine it’s like you almost cry. It’s a relief: it gives you hope,” said Colameo. “I feel very happy I did it and hopefully more people can do it.”

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Cassandra Garrison in Mexico City and Marco Aquino in Lima; Additional reporting by Carolina Mandl in Sao Paulo and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. expands effort to allow in vulnerable migrants at Mexico border

By Kristina Cooke, Mica Rosenberg and Ted Hesson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The United States has begun rolling out a new system to identify and admit the most vulnerable migrants at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to three people briefed on the matter.

The new system, which started at the port of entry in El Paso, Texas, this week, creates a more formal process that allows pre-screened asylum seekers to enter the United States on humanitarian grounds, despite a broad policy of expulsions at the border.

The expulsion policy was put in place under former Republican President Donald Trump in March 2020 citing public health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. President Joe Biden has not revoked it.

By next week, the effort to streamline exemptions is expected to expand to other Texas ports in Brownsville, Laredo and Hidalgo, as well as in Nogales, Arizona, U.S. officials said on a call with advocates on Wednesday, according to two people familiar with the discussion.

As of Wednesday, roughly two dozen migrants had been admitted through the program, the two sources said, and the number of people allowed to enter going forward will depend on capacity to safely process them at the ports. The numbers will likely be limited, however, because of the non-profit groups’ capacity to screen migrants who might be eligible.

The move illustrates the struggle Biden is facing – while his administration is declaring the southern border closed to hopeful migrants, the number of apprehensions has reached a 20-year high. Border patrol picked up nearly 170,000 migrants between ports of entry in March and made a similar number of arrests in April, according to two people briefed on preliminary figures.

Migrant advocates have pressured Biden to do more to allow in asylum seekers to submit asylum claims.

The new process tasks a handful of non-profits working in Mexico with identifying and referring the neediest asylum seekers to U.S. officials, including those with medical issues, the people briefed on the matter said.

Migrants who have experienced long periods of displacement, sexual minorities and victims of crime, trafficking and sexual violence will also be among those considered for the program.

Those approved through the process will be given COVID-19 tests and a date and time to go to a port of entry. They will be released into the United States and given a notice to appear in immigration court to present their asylum claims.

A State Department spokesperson said on Wednesday that the “border remains closed” but that the government was working to streamline the system to identify and lawfully process “particularly vulnerable individuals who warrant humanitarian exception under the order.”

A spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the United States requested the agency channel U.S. funds to the non-profit groups involved.

EXPULSIONS CONTINUE

Biden early on in his presidency exempted unaccompanied children from the Trump-era expulsions order, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and known as Title 42. But his administration has continued to expel tens of thousands of single adults and some families.

The expulsions have left many migrants stranded in dangerous border cities in Mexico. Since Biden took office, the non-profit group Human Rights First has documented at least 492 violent attacks, including rapes and kidnappings of migrants blocked from entry under the policy.

The new system builds on admissions that have been happening in recent weeks through the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of several organizations that sued the U.S. government to end the expulsions policy.

Since late March, the ACLU has been able to get up to 35 families per day admitted at ports of entry along the border and expects to continue its process in parallel with efforts from other non-profit groups.

Advocates, however, say they are dismayed that Biden has left the border expulsion policy in place, even with exceptions, arguing that it cuts off access to the U.S. asylum process.

“It’s just a continuation of a process that’s illegal at the end of the day,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection with Human Rights First.

(Reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco and Mica Rosenberg in New York and Ted Hesson in Washington D.C., editing by Ross Colvin and Aurora Ellis)

Important to get U.S. vaccine help along border, Mexican official says

By Adriana Barrera and Cassandra Garrison

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico is ramping up requests for more COVID-19 shots from the United States, and in the coming days may ask for assistance vaccinating people along the countries’ shared border, the Mexican government official in charge of vaccine diplomacy said.

Mexico has received 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine from the United States, but has not made progress on accessing larger U.S. stocks, deputy foreign minister for multilateral affairs Martha Delgado said in an interview with Reuters late last week.

“We are once again taking up dialogue to insist on this need,” she said, ahead of an upcoming visit by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard to the United States.

Mexico may also put forward a proposal to prioritize vaccination along its border with the United States, Delgado said, describing the issue as important and a concern in Mexico.

The proximity and human ties between populous towns and cities along the border means it is easy for the coronavirus to re-infect both sides.

The U.S.-Mexico border region, which stretches 3,175 km (1,973 miles), is home to at least 14.6 million people, according to government data from 2018.

Tens of thousands of Central Americans have trekked to the U.S. border in recent months, in a growing humanitarian challenge for U.S. President Joe Biden. Delgado did not specify whether a new proposal for vaccines in the border area would include migrants.

The supply of vaccines has become a global diplomatic tussle.

Mexico government officials on Friday declared the doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine shipped from the United States safe and approved by two health regulators after operations were halted at the U.S. plant that produced them due to contamination.

Following Delgado’s interview with Reuters, a representative for her declined to comment on whether the issue could impact future vaccine agreements with the United States.

Ebrard will also make trips to Russia, China and India, as part of efforts to ensure supply agreements are honored.

Part of his agenda in the United States will be devoted to vaccines, including “scientific exchange,” Delgado said.

Mexico has so far received more than 21 million shots, primarily from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, China’s Sinovac and Cansino and Russia’s Sputnik V.

But supply delays and shortages have hampered the campaign to vaccinate its population of 126 million.

The country has relied on deals with China and Russia amid gaps by Western suppliers and slow shipments through global COVAX facility mechanism, led by the GAVI vaccines alliance and the World Health Organization to promote equitable access.

Mexico was considering hosting Phase III trials for an additional Chinese vaccine, Delgado said. She declined to say which one.

(Reporting by Adriana Barrera and Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Karishma Singh)

U.S. adds 116 countries to its ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory list

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. State Department has added at least 116 countries this week to its “Level Four: Do Not Travel” advisory list, putting the UK, Canada, France, Israel, Mexico, Germany and others on the list, citing a “very high level of COVID-19.”

On Monday, the State Department said it would boost the number of countries receiving its highest advisory rating to about 80% of countries worldwide.

Before Tuesday, the State Department listed 34 out of about 200 countries as “Do Not Travel.” The State Department now lists 150 countries at Level Four. It declined to say when it would complete the updates.

The State Department said on Monday the move did not imply a reassessment of current health situations in some countries, but rather “reflects an adjustment in the State Department’s Travel Advisory system to rely more on (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s) existing epidemiological assessments.”

The recommendations are not mandatory and do not bar Americans from travel.

Other countries in the “Do Not Travel” list include Finland, Egypt, Belgium, Turkey, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain. Some countries like China and Japan remain at Level 3: Reconsider Travel.”

Most Americans already had been prevented from traveling to much of Europe because of COVID-19 restrictions. Washington has barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in most of Europe, China, Brazil, Iran and South Africa.

On Tuesday, the United States extended by a further 30 days restrictions in place for 13 months that bar non-essential travel at its Canadian and Mexican borders.

Nick Calio, who heads Airlines for America, a trade group representing major U.S. carriers, told a U.S. Senate panel on Wednesday that policymakers needed to find a “road map” to reopening international travel.

Earlier this month, the CDC said fully vaccinated people could safely travel within the United States at “low risk,” but its director, Rochelle Walensky, discouraged Americans from doing so because of high coronavirus cases nationwide.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Bumpy first weeks of Harris’ immigration role show challenges of the job

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When President Joe Biden entrusted Vice President Kamala Harris in March with leading U.S. diplomatic efforts to cut immigration from Mexico and Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” experts described the job as both “perilous” and a “political grenade.”

The subsequent weeks have shown just how challenging the role will be as the administration seeks to defuse a crisis at the border.

Harris has pushed Central American countries to increase troops at their borders and said she plans to visit Guatemala and Mexico, which could happen in as soon as a month.

At a meeting with advisers last week, which focused heavily on anti-corruption efforts, Harris spoke about tackling the root causes of migration that have plagued the region for decades – gang violence, drug-trafficking cartels, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes – with diplomacy.

But thorny issues have already surfaced with the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and unaccompanied children continue to show up at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Representatives for Harris did not comment but cited administration statements on the issue.

To succeed in her task, Harris needs to balance opposing priorities, experts and advisers said.

They include maintaining political distance from Central American leaders while conveying that the United States wants to cooperate, and long-term strategies to fix the underlying reasons people are fleeing those countries as well as small wins that can result in immediate success at home.

Harris is still calibrating the right tone, said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, who recently participated in a meeting Harris convened about problems in the region.

“The tone issue looks at how do you both recognize the need to work with the people in the region and at the same time call attention to some of the real deficits of governance in these countries,” Selee said.

The vice president is working with members of Biden’s Cabinet and the U.S. special envoy to the Northern Triangle, Ricardo Zuniga, and having weekly lunches with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a senior White House official said.

She gets updates on the region during the President’s Daily Brief and holds regular meetings on Central America with her team, the official said.

The White House’s immigration team has shown signs of strain. Roberta Jacobson, the high-profile “border czar,” is leaving at the end of the month, the White House said unexpectedly on April 9.

Tensions are also rising between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the White House over overloaded shelters at the border.

Harris has started working as well with the private sector to expand investment opportunities in the Northern Triangle and with international organizations about strengthening those economies, while overseeing the use and flow of aid and trying to increase ways for asylum seekers to apply from home, the official said.

TOUGH SPOT FOR DIPLOMACY

In what some U.S. experts called a challenge to the Biden administration, Guatemalan lawmakers refused on Monday to swear in a corruption-fighting judge, Constitutional Court President Gloria Porras, who U.S. officials had seen as key to the fight against graft there.

Harris spoke with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on March 30, when he asked her about the possibility of purchasing COVID-19 vaccines, officials told Reuters, a question that was not included in the U.S. readout of the call.

On April 5, Guatemala said it was purchasing 16 million Russian Sputnik V vaccines instead, to inoculate about half the country’s population.

Getting vaccines to those countries is an immediate way to show that the United States cares, said Selee, adding it was high on their list “because it is key to restarting economic life.”

An administration official said it was not politically tenable to assure vaccine supplies to other countries before inoculating every American. A spokeswoman for Harris declined comment on the issue.

El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, who won a landslide victory in 2019 on a pledge to root out corruption but has faced criticism from rights groups for what they see as autocratic leanings, criticized the U.S. strategy after Harris’ new role was announced.

“A recycled plan that did not work in 2014 will not work now,” he wrote on Twitter.

In March, a U.S. court sentenced the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez to life in prison for drug trafficking. There is also a U.S. Senate bill proposing sanctions on the Honduran president for corruption.

Harris “must keep a distance from the Honduran government right now,” said Lisa Haugaard, co-director of the Latin America Working Group, who attended last week’s meeting with Harris.

Harris has not yet spoken with Bukele or Hernandez.

EARLY ‘WIN’ CRITICIZED BY SUPPORTERS

Her deal with Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to increase troops at their borders to stop people from fleeing – which the White House announced on April 12, is already being criticized by aid groups.

“Restricting people from fleeing for their lives is not a win, it is illegal,” said Noah Gottschalk, the global policy lead for Oxfam America. “We are concerned this will lead to human rights violations by security forces.”

A representative from Oxfam participated in last week’s meeting.

Harris’ focus on diplomacy, not the way that asylum seekers are treated at the border, is a hard political sell at home, for Republicans and Democrats, experts said.

“Democratic voters do not care as much about diplomatic maneuverings as they do about the handling of migrants at the border and that is how they will ultimately judge Harris,” said Jennifer Piscopo, associate professor of politics and Latin American studies at Los Angeles-based Occidental College.

“It will be hard to separate her from what is happening at the border.”

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons and Peter Cooney)

White House official says Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala to increase troops on borders

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration has secured agreements for Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala to place more troops on their borders, a White House official told Reuters on Monday amid the growing number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border.

The official did not provide any details. Earlier, White House aide Tyler Moran told MSNBC that the Biden administration had secured agreements with Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala to put more troops on their own border.

Reuters was not immediately able to establish what agreements the officials were referring to or whether they go beyond existing enforcement measures in those countries.

The Mexican, Honduran and Guatemalan governments did not respond immediately to requests for comment about any new measures.

Reuters reported in March that Mexico had stepped up raids aimed at rounding up immigrants transiting illegally north toward the U.S. border, and reinforced its efforts along its border with Guatemala.

Those efforts have not yet produced significant results, and have been complicated by pandemic restrictions and new rules limiting the capacity of Mexican immigration detention centers.

In January, just before Biden took office, Guatemala deployed security forces to halt a U.S.-bound caravan of migrants, and Guatemalan government officials have vowed to keep up the pressure.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Mexico City, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

Canadian Pacific-Kansas City Southern rail deal seen boosting farm sales

By Rod Nickel and Ankit Ajmera

(Reuters) – Canadian Pacific’s $25 billion deal to buy Kansas City Southern will create a rail network from Canada to Mexico that farm groups say could smooth the flow of their goods to market.

The deal, subject to approval by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, would combine CP’s cross-Canada network, which stretches as far south as Kansas City, Missouri, with its U.S. rival’s network, which extends south into Mexico.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Iowa-based Soy Transportation Coalition said the deal could increase market access for customers of each railway.

“Many current Canadian Pacific customers currently only have access to export terminals in the Pacific Northwest,” Steenhoek said in a statement. “Similarly, current Kansas City Southern customers may enjoy new access to markets served by the Canadian Pacific network.”

Mexico is a major buyer of U.S. corn and Canadian canola.

“This will open up a whole new set of opportunities for grain shipments,” said an industry source close to the deal.

Canadian grain handlers also see potential for enhanced sales, but are awaiting details on how much of a priority the combined company will place on customer service, said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, whose members include Cargill Ltd and Richardson International.

CP has effectively moved Canadian grain in the past year, but its spending on upgrading its network has lagged the agriculture sector’s growth during the past five years, Sobkowich said.

For Canadian oil, the merger may offer modest benefits for producers who ship with CP, said John Zahary, chief executive of Altex Energy, which operates rail uploading terminals connected to Canadian National, which handles more oil volumes.

The combination is likely to increase industry price competition and is thus unlikely to face regulatory roadblocks, analysts said.

“This is by default negative for the other railroads, including Canadian National, which faces a longer haul competitor into the Gulf Coast and Midwest,” J.P. Morgan analyst Brian Ossenbeck said in a research note.

Kansas City shares jumped 13% to $252.80 but were still well short of the offer price of $275, a move that analysts attributed to the extended lead time for the deal, which is not expected to close until the middle of 2022.

Shares of Canadian Pacific fell about 5%.

CP Chief Executive Keith Creel approached Kansas City Southern CEO Pat Ottensmeyer late last year to discuss a deal, the industry source said, adding that the two executives know each other well.

While it is the biggest M&A deal announced thus far in 2021 and is the largest ever involving two rail companies, it ranks behind the 2010 takeover of BNSF by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for $26.4 billion.

The cash-and-stock offer has an enterprise value of about $29 billion, implying an 18 times multiple to Kansas City’s 2021 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) estimate, according to analysts.

That is higher than Kansas City’s current multiple of 14 times, making any competing bids unlikely, Ossenbeck said.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera and Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Maiya Keidan in Toronto; Editing by Christian Plumb, Anil D’Silva and Jonathan Oatis)

Biden sends envoys to Mexico, Guatemala asking help on migrant flow

WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – U.S. officials will ask authorities in Mexico and Guatemala to help stem migrant traffic, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday, as the Biden administration struggles to contain a burgeoning humanitarian challenge along the U.S. border with Mexico.

President Joe Biden dispatched U.S. envoys, including White House border coordinator Roberta Jacobson, to the two countries on Monday for talks on how to manage the increase in the number of migrants heading for the U.S.-Mexican border.

When asked if the U.S. delegation would seek support from local officials, Psaki told a news briefing:

“Absolutely, part of our objective as Roberta Jacobson,…conveyed when she was in here just a few weeks ago, was that we need to work in partnership with these countries to address the root causes in their countries to convey clearly and systematically that this is not the time to travel.”

Jacobson was joined by Juan Gonzalez, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere, and Honduran-born diplomat Ricardo Zuniga, just appointed by the State Department as the Northern Triangle special envoy.

Gonzalez will continue to Guatemala to meet Guatemalan officials, as well as representatives from civil society and non-governmental organizations.

Biden’s promise to end former President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies has been complicated by a recent spike in the number of migrants crossing the border illegally.

The increase in the number of migrants fleeing violence, natural disasters and economic hardship in Central America is testing Biden’s commitment to a more humane immigration policy.

White House spokeswoman Emily Horne said Jacobson’s goal in Mexico is developing “an effective and humane plan of action to manage migration.”

The visit was also announced by Mexico’s foreign ministry, which said the talks would take place on Tuesday.

Gonzalez’ aim in Guatemala is to “address root causes of migration in the region and build a more hopeful future in the region,” Horne said.

U.S. officials are struggling to house and process an increasing number of unaccompanied children, many of whom have been stuck in jail-like border stations for days while they await placement in overwhelmed government-run shelters.

Biden has resisted calling the border drama a crisis despite Republicans’ insistence that it fits the description.

“Children presenting at our border, who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, who are fleeing terrible situations, is not a crisis,” Psaki told reporters.

Biden and his team had a mixed message at the outset of the border woes, saying the border was closed but that unaccompanied children would be given care.

Psaki said the Biden administration has placed 17,118 radio ads in Spanish, Portuguese and 6 indigenous languages to discourage U.S.-bound migration from Central America and Brazil. She said 589 digital ads have also been placed.

Mexico has beefed up law enforcement at its southern border to stem a sharp increase in migrants entering the country to head for the United States.

“The main issue to discuss will be cooperation for development in Central America and the south of Mexico, as well as the joint efforts for safe, orderly and regular migration,” Roberto Velasco, the top official at the Mexican foreign ministry for North America, said on Twitter.

Representatives of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean will also attend the meeting, Velasco said.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alistair Bell)

U.S. plans to send four million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico, Canada

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States plans to send roughly 4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine that it is not using to Mexico and Canada in loan deals with the two countries, an administration official told Reuters on Thursday.

Mexico will receive 2.5 million doses of the vaccine and Canada will receive 1.5 million doses, the official said.

“This virus has no borders,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “We only put the virus behind us if we’re helping our global partners.”

The Biden administration has come under pressure from allies worldwide to share vaccine, particularly from AstraZeneca, which is authorized for use in other countries but not yet in the United States.

AstraZeneca has millions of doses made in a U.S. facility, and has said that it would have 30 million shots ready at the beginning of April. The company’s shares rose slightly on the news.

The deal to share the vaccine, which is still being finalized, does not affect President Joe Biden’s plans to have vaccine available for all adults in the United States by the end of May, the official said. The deal is likely to be announced publicly in the coming days.

Two officials said the vaccine would be delivered in “short order” once the deal was completed, but they declined to give a more specific timetable.

The “releasable” vaccines are ready to be used once they arrive. Under the deal, the United States will share doses with Mexico and Canada now with the understanding that they will pay the United States back with doses in return. The official said that would take place later this year.

The United States had no plans to share the vaccine with other countries at this time, he said.

“They are our neighbors, they are our partners,” the official said about Mexico and Canada. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had requested the vaccine previously.

Biden has said if the United States has a surplus of vaccine, it will share it with the rest of the world.

The official noted that the United States has pledged $4 billion to the COVAX vaccine facility that aims to deliver coronavirus vaccines to poor countries.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)

Pandemic picking up speed in half of the Americas: PAHO director

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – New coronavirus cases are picking up again in half of the countries in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, calling on Brazil to protect its people in the face of record infections and deaths.

Brazil is now reporting the highest number of new infections in the region, PAHO director Carissa Etienne said. Several areas of Brazil are witnessing record-high infections, and hospital beds are nearly at capacity across more than half of Brazilian states.

Brazil on Tuesday reported a record 2,841 deaths in 24 hours, as the incoming health minister pledged to continue the controversial policies of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the severity of the disease.

“The situation in Brazil is a cautionary tale that keeping this virus under control requires continuous attention by public health authorities and leaders to protect people and health systems from the devastating impact of this virus,” Etienne said.

According to a Reuters tally, Latin America has recorded around 22.9 million coronavirus cases, and 722,000 deaths, almost double the toll of Asia and Africa combined.

The news out of North America was mixed as the vaccine rollout in the United States gained momentum. The United States and Mexico are reporting a drop in new infections, though cases in Canada are accelerating, particularly among young adults ages 20 to 39, Etienne said.

But she said vaccines are limited and supplies face a bottleneck, with only two manufacturers providing shots through the World Health Organization and Gavi coalition’s COVAX facility to provide equitable access for poorer nations.

So far, nearly 138 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the Americas, although just 28 million of those shots were given in Latin America and the Caribbean.

New infections are decelerating in the Caribbean, but some islands are seeing the number of COVID-19 deaths double, she said.

Cases were rising in Uruguay, Ecuador and Venezuela in the last week, while Paraguay’s health system issued an urgent warning as hospitals filled up with COVID-19 patients, Etienne said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)