More border closures in Latin America, Caribbean as coronavirus cases spike

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Colombia is closing its land, sea and river borders — barring foreigners and nationals from entering or leaving — starting Tuesday through May 30, the government announced late Monday.

In a video and a series of tweets, President Iván Duque said the steps were required for the “defense of the health of Colombians.”

Duque said he’d reached the decision after talking to the governments of Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.

“We are taking this coordinated effort to protect our countries,” he said. The massive land border with Venezuela had previously been shut and the country was already barring non-resident foreigners from entering.

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The government said Monday’s additional measures will allow it to focus its efforts on screening incoming passengers on flights. Colombia has reported 54 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Border closures related to the coronavirus outbreak continued across Latin America and the Caribbean, as the region is struggling to contain the spread of the virus.

On Monday the Dominican Republic announced its first COVID-19 related death and the discovery of 10 more infected individuals.

The Dominican Republic’s health ministry announced at a press conference that a 47-year-old woman who had recently returned from Spain, and who had underlying health issues, died of COVID-19, according to local press reports. The ministry also announced there were 10 more positive cases, in addition to the previously reported 11.

Following the disclosure of the country’s first death, Dominican officials announced they would soon be taking preventive measures to try to combat the virus.

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As the Dominican Republic was mulling over what measures it would take, citizens of Chile and Trinidad and Tobago were preparing for tighter borders.

Both nations announced that in the face of rising cases in their respective countries, they would be shutting their borders to foreigners. In Trinidad, the health ministry reported two more individuals had become infected with the coronavirus, bringing its total to 4. Meanwhile, Chile as of 2 p.m. Monday, had an explosive 156 confirmed cases, according to the U.S. Embassy in Chile.

“We are in Phase 3. This means that some of the cases that we registered as positive in the last hours in the country, we do not have sufficient certainty that they can be directly traced to a case abroad,” Chilean Health Minister Jaime Mañalich said over the weekend, after the government confirmed 18 new cases and ended a meeting to expand preventive measures. “We knew this situation was going to come. We are prepared for it, but this means a more delicate situation from the epidemiological point of view of the disease.”

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In announcing the border closure, which goes into effect Wednesday, the government of President Sebastián Piñera reminded Chileans and those residing in the country that if they enter Chile from China, Iran, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, South Korea or Japan, they will be subjected to 14 days of mandatory quarantine.

Piñera’s tighter border came on the heels of similar measures. Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and El Salvador, among others, have partially or completely shut their borders — or plan to do so in coming hours.

On Sunday, both Haiti and Honduras announced border shutdowns. Haitian officials said they were suspending all international flights, except from the United States, and closing the border with the Dominican Republic as of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince also informed visa applicants that it would be canceling all routine visa appointments scheduled between Tuesday and May 8. It said it was unable to provide a date on when such appointments would resume. Though U.S. officials in Port-au-Prince did not specify to applicants why they were suspending services, in Jamaica they did. In a tweet, the U.S. Embassy in Kingston said it was “implementing all appropriating measures to help control the spread of COVID-19.” The consular section will not be providing routine services, including visa processing and American citizens services until further notice, the tweet said.

In Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández announced a virtual lockdown of the entire country. Not only will schools be closed until March 26 but all public events, regardless of the number of attendees, are banned. Also, all non-essential businesses were ordered closed, except for supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, hotels, banks, hospitals, and restaurants with drive-thru or delivery services. Visits to nursing homes, hospitals and the like will also be prohibited.

The only thing being allowed through the country’s borders with Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, the government said, is Honduran residents and citizens, diplomatic staff and cargo. Nearly all private and public workers went home, and public transportation halted.

Declaring a “red alert” on all 18 departments until March 28, Hernández said anyone who doesn’t comply with the directives is subject to a jail sentence ranging from 6 months to 2 years.

Honduras is not alone is setting up penalties in order to get residents to comply. Trinidad and Tobago also reminded citizens in one of its circulars on the virus that anyone who breaches a quarantine order will be subjected to a fine of $6,000 and as much as six months in prison.

Following a cabinet meeting Monday, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley announced that as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, all entry into the oil-rich territory will be restricted to nationals for the next 14 days. Exemptions can be granted in certain circumstances , he said. Cargo ships will be allowed to dock, but their crews won’t be allowed to disembark.

All bars are to remain closed and there will be no in-house restaurant dining for the next 14 days, Rowley announced. Also, schools and educational institutions will remain closed until April 20, said Rowley, who appealed to private institutions to remain closed.

“What the government is doing by way of policy is to ... protect our health; we will protect your jobs; we’ll protect your families; we will protect this economy as far as we are able to and the businesses in it,” Rowley said.

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