Colombia goes into lockdown, Chile extends schools closures

Montevideo (AFP) –


Countries across Latin America tightened measures on Wednesday to halt the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, with more lockdowns and school closures as well as increased aid to the region's poorest.

As cases of COVID-19 cases continue to rise -- more than 7,400 and 123 deaths up to now -- Colombia became the latest country to impose a total lockdown, while Chile extended its schools closures until the end of April.

Here are the latest measures taken in several Latin American countries:

- Colombia -

A three-week total lockdown began just after midnight Tuesday.

"Stay at home, prevent the virus from spreading and save lives," said President Ivan Duque.

Colombia, population 48 million, will be locked up until April 12.

It joins Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and El Salvador as the other Latin American countries to have imposed total lockdowns.

Nearly 500 cases of the deadly virus have been reported in Colombia.

- Chile -

Some 1.3 million residents of Santiago -- including those of the Chilean capital's most affluent neighborhoods -- will be on lockdown for least a week starting at 0100 GMT Thursday, officials said.

This followed orders extending school closures until May. Classes were suspended on March 16, just under two weeks after the first novel coronavirus case was recorded.

The lockdown areas "concentrate the greatest number of cases, and the movement of people can generate more contagions," said Health Minister Jaime Manalich.

"This means that people will have to stay at home," he emphasized.

Chile has more than 1,100 recorded infections and three deaths from the virus.

- Honduras -

Soldiers have begun distributing food to locked-down residents of the poorest neighborhoods of the capital Tegucigalpa.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez said 800,000 poor families -- 3.2 million people -- would receive food to ensure they stayed indoors.

Honduras has recorded 36 COVID-19 cases so far.

- Brazil -

President Jair Bolsonaro has warned of possible "chaos" and the "looting" of supermarkets if state shutdowns ordered by the governors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro aren't ended.

Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly scoffed at the severity of the deadly pandemic, had previously criticized the closing of schools and businesses in Sao Paulo and Rio states, two of the country's most populous states.

"Companies aren't producing anything. They can't pay their employees. And if the economy collapses, there won't be any way to pay public officials. We are facing chaos," Bolsonaro said.

If that happened and supermarkets were looted, he said, "we'll have chaos plus the virus."

- Mexico -

BBVA, the largest bank in Mexico, has predicted that the coronavirus outbreak will cause the economy to contract by 4.5 percent in 2020.

The Spanish bank said Mexican exports would be hard hit by a reduction in demand from the United States, its largest trading partner, if virus containment measures continue.

BBVA also said remittances sent to family members in Mexico could be hit by rising unemployment in the United States.

Other banks, such as Barclays and Credit Suisse, predicted the economy would shrink by 2-4 percent.

- Panama -

New equipment donated by the Chinese company Huawei will use artificial intelligence to detect possible new COVID-19 cases, a government official said.

The equipment will take a tomography image "and almost instantly produce a rapid analysis that will allow for a conclusion on whether a patient has COVID-19," said Enrique Lau Cortes, the director of the Social Security Fund.

The equipment, which has been used in China, can give results in one minute, compared with the hours or days it takes to return a result through other testing methods, Lau Cortes said.

However the results would still need to be verified against laboratory tests, he said.