Virus lockdown ends in El Salvador amid clash of authorities

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2020 file photo, El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele, accompanied by members of the armed forces, speaks to supporters outside Congress in San Salvador, El Salvador. Bukele has imposed some of the region's toughest measures against the new coronavirus and a growing number of human rights advocates at home and abroad complain the 38-year-old leader has used the emergency to seize near-dictatorial powers. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez, File)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — El Salvador's president says that a stringent quarantine imposed to fight COVID-19 has legally expired and a gradual reopening of the economy will begin on Tuesday.

The Central American nation's Supreme Court ruled that the strict measures decreed by President Nayib Bukele were unconstitutional and Bukele said Saturday night that he is going to veto the alternative restrictions passed Friday by the National Assembly.

As a result, he acknowledged, by law the region's most restrictive legal lockdown has ended, though he asked citizens to continue in quarantine voluntarily until Tuesday, when phased measures to reactivate economic life would begin.

Under Bukele's stay-at-home decrees, violators were sent to government-run containment centers for month-long stays. He had resisted loosening the orders, arguing that the country’s medical system could be quickly overwhelmed, resulting in much greater loss of life.

Health Minister Francisco Alabí said that the nation's health system is already strained, with 90 of its 105 available intensive care beds already occupied. He said he expected to see an increase in COVID-19 cases with the end of restrictions.

The country of nearly 6.5 million people has reported 3.603 confirmed cases of the disease, with 72 deaths.