Ecuador confirms five new cases of coronavirus, all close to initial patient

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GUAYAQUIL, March 1 (Reuters) - Ecuador has confirmed five cases of the new coronavirus in patients who all had direct contact with an elderly woman who brought the virus to the Andean country from Spain, health minister Catalina Andramuño said on Sunday.

The woman, an Ecuadorean citizen who resides in Spain, arrived in Ecuador on a direct flight from Madrid on Feb. 14 without presenting symptoms, but soon began to feel ill and was admitted to one of the public hospitals the government equipped to deal with the new virus.

The announcement brought the total number of confirmed cases in the country to six. The five new cases are all relatives of the woman who had direct contact with her since she arrived, Andramuño said, adding that they were all quarantined at their homes.

"They are presenting mild symptoms," Andramuño told reporters in the southern city of Guayaquil. "We are monitoring them, we are controlling them."

Authorities are also monitoring some 177 people who could have come into contact with the initial patient, including passengers on her flight, other relatives, and health care workers.

The new coronavirus, which originated in China, is spreading rapidly across the globe. Other countries in Latin America reporting cases include Brazil, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.

Ecuador's health ministry earlier on Sunday said it had increased medical checks at ports of entry for travelers from China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain and Mexico. Authorities have also suspended public evens in the Guayas and Los Ríos provinces, where the cases have been reported. (Reporting by Yury Garcia; Writing by Alexandra Valencia; Editing by Luc Cohen and Daniel Wallis)