Latin America steps up measures against coronavirus spread

Montevideo (AFP) –


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

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

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 travelers 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 February 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 affect 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.

Colombia has seen only three cases so far but also announced measures against travelers 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.

Announcing the news on television, President Martin Vizcarra said the Andean country had recorded 13 cases of the virus.

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.

El Salvador has banned entry to people arriving from China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, France, Spain and Germany, except for Salvadoran nationals and diplomats who must respect a month-long quarantine.

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.