Venezuela puts 7 states in virus quarantine as LatAm steps up measures

·4 min read
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says the quarantine is 'the only way' to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading (AFP Photo/-)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says the quarantine is 'the only way' to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says the quarantine is 'the only way' to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading (AFP Photo/-)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday ordered a "collective quarantine" in seven states, including the capital Caracas to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, part of stepped-up measures throughout Latin America.

Peru declared a state of emergency and confinement of its population, enforced by security forces, along with complete closure of the country's borders.

Argentina and Colombia were among other countries to announce new travel restrictions and El Salvador also declared a state of emergency.

The region did not report its first coronavirus case until February 26, by which time it was well established in Asia and Europe.

But Latin America has seen an acceleration in reported cases, with more than 550 people now infected and seven deaths, including the first in Guatemala.

In Venezuela, all activities in the seven states are to be suspended from early Monday.

Food distribution, health services, transport and security are exempted, Maduro said in a television address to his crisis-devastated nation where the economy had already collapsed long before the pandemic struck.

"The only way to contain the channels of transmission is to enter in a... drastic phase of collective quarantine throughout the country," said Maduro, adding the measures "deserves great social discipline, great self-control" and people should stay at home.

Caracas alone is home to six million people.

This latest measure to combat the pandemic comes after Maduro previously banned flights to and from Europe, Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic. He also suspended school and university classes, and sports events.

Venezuela reported seven new cases of the COVID-19 illness on Sunday, taking its total to 17.

Maduro has said his response was inspired by that of China, one of Venezuela's main commercial allies.

China, where the virus originated, put tens of millions of people under lockdown to help contain its spread.

Peru, where the number of cases had jumped to 71, imposed a 15-day emergency involving the "obligatory social isolation of our population," President Martin Vizcarra said in a national broadcast.

Only those in need of essential goods can go outside, he said, with the armed forces and police in charge of enforcement.

Peru had earlier barred cruise ships from docking at its ports for at least 30 days.

- Argentina, Colombia close borders -

Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez announced the closure of the country's borders and a suspension of school until the end of the month.

Fernandez said the border closure was only for people entering and there was no impediment to leaving Argentina.

Colombian President Ivan Duque took similar actions.

Colombians and foreign residents can still enter the country but must respect "an obligatory two-week isolation," he said.

Among those in quarantine is Colombian cyclist Nairo Quintana, of the Arkea-Samsic team, who finished sixth Saturday in the Paris-Nice cycling race.

"After I gave yesterday one more joy to my country I will carry out for 14 days the preventive isolation that they told me about when I returned to Colombia," he wrote on social media.

Uruguay said it would suspend the arrival of flights from Europe, although residents would be allowed to come back. Other countries in the region had already suspended European arrivals.

Chile suspended school classes and barred cruise ships from its ports. On Saturday it quarantined two cruise ships after an 85-year-old Briton tested positive for the virus.

Chile has recorded 75 positive cases since March 3.

President Sebastian Pinera also reduced from 500 to 200 the maximum size of permitted public events.

- Costa Rica blocks night life -

In Central America, Guetamala's first fatality came with the death Sunday of an 85-year-old who became infected in Spain, Health Minister Hugo Monroy said.

Spain is among the European countries worst-hit by the pandemic.

Monroy also banned the entry of Europeans, and Panama said foreigners without residency permits would be barred from entry.

Costa Rican health authorities ordered all bars, casinos and night clubs to close for one month.

Health Minister Daniel Salas called on people to avoid going outside unless it was strictly necessary.

Late on Saturday, El Salvador's Congress declared a state of emergency and approved a partial suspension of the country's constitution, despite not having recorded any cases of new coronavirus.

In sport, Brazil and Mexico suspended all professional football matches until further notice.

Brazil is the worst affected country in Latin America with 176 reported cases.

In the Dominican Republic, municipal elections went ahead on Sunday, although the government announced it was suspending flights to and from Europe, China, South Korea and Iran.

Before the ban took effect, the Caribbean nation was co-ordinating flights home for 3,000 passengers stranded after the government suspended the arrival and departure of cruises.