Latin America steps up measures against virus spread

Nayib Bukele says citizens arriving from virus-hit countries will face 30-day quarantine. (Reuters pic)

MONTEVIDEO: Latin American countries stepped up measures to slow the advance of the coronavirus Wednesday, announcing a slew of restrictions on travellers from the worst-affected countries and shutting down major sports events.

Argentina, Colombia and Peru announced that travellers from China, Italy, Spain and France would be isolated on arrival.

El Salvador went further, with President Nayib Bukele announcing late Wednesday the Central American country would ban entry to all foreigners for a period of 21 days.

The move would affect “any foreigner who is not a resident or diplomat” posted in the country, Bukele said, adding that Salvadorans arriving from countries hit by the virus would face a 30-day quarantine.

El Salvador – which had previously banned entry on to those travelling from the worst-affected countries – is among a handful of states in the region yet to declare a confirmed case of the coronavirus.

Argentina was the first country in Latin America to register a coronavirus-related death on Saturday, with Panama announcing another on Tuesday.

The continent still has only around 150 registered cases and two deaths.

Though it pales with soaring global figures of 124,000 cases and more than 4,500 deaths, the new measures reflect the growing disquiet in the region – particularly given its close links with former colonial power Spain, one of the countries worst hit by the crisis.

Buenos Aires announced a two-week isolation period for people arriving from China, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

“This is not voluntary, it’s not a recommendation. If you don’t comply, you’ll be committing a crime, which is putting the public health at risk,” warned President Alberto Fernandez on Argentine radio.

“The person who complies with the 14-day quarantine is obliged to shut himself away at home alone.”

Fernandez said Argentina was considering barring travellers from Italy, the worst-affected European country and one from which many Argentines are descended and where they still have family.

The coronavirus appeared in China in late December and quickly spread throughout Asia to reach 113 countries by Wednesday.

Latin America remained untouched until the first case appeared in Brazil on Feb 26.

Sports events postponed

Argentine sports authorities announced the postponement of a number of events, including the South American Swimming Championships, an Athletics Grand Prix meeting, the World Cup of Fencing and an Olympic boxing qualification tournament.

The travel restrictions on people arriving from affected countries could impact Argentina’s football team, which is due to play two qualifying matches at the end of the month for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

A number of top Argentina stars play their club football in Italy, Spain and France, such as Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and forwards Paulo Dybala of Juventus and Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez.

Separately, organisers of the Argentine Moto GP – due to take place in April – announced it had been postponed until November.

Argentina has registered 19 coronavirus cases and one death, a 64-year-old man who had arrived in Buenos Aires from France.

The Panamanian victim was also 64 and had suffered from diabetes.

Panama has suspended school classes until April 7, while Bukele said El Salvador would suspend university classes as well until the end of the month.

Colombia has seen only three cases so far but also announced measures against travellers arriving from affected countries.

“Given the implications of the quarantine by China, Italy, Spain and France, the national government is adopting the preventive isolation of people coming from those countries to protect the collective health,” President Ivan Duque said on Twitter.

Peru followed suit by declaring a two-week “home isolation” for people coming from those same four countries, while also announcing the start of the new school year would be pushed back two weeks to March 30.

On Tuesday, Chile was the first Latin American country to announce a quarantine on arrivals from Spain and Italy.

With 23 cases, Chile’s total is surpassed regionally only by Brazil’s 37.

Schools closed

Bolivia has asked people arriving from affected countries to place themselves in isolation for two weeks.

Costa Rica has called off large-scale events including football matches, concerts and popular festivals.

Guatemala has banned entry to people from China and migrants from Honduras displaying signs of the virus, while also imposing a week-long hospital stay on those coming from Europe.

Paraguay has suspended school classes and large public events for two weeks, and the Dominican Republic has suspended flights arriving from Milan.

China, where the virus originated, has been the worst affected country with more than 80,000 cases and over 3,100 deaths, although the government says more than 60,000 people have recovered.