Latin American countries are stepping up measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, halting flights to and from Europe, banning public gatherings and closing schools.
Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Honduras took tougher steps a day after the World Health Organization described the outbreak as a pandemic and the United States restricted some travel from Europe and other countries with widespread outbreaks.
“As a region, Latin America lags behind much of the rest of the world in coronavirus outbreaks and it is smart that countries are taking strong action to protect their citizens,” says Peruvian epidemiologist Guillermo Méndez. “Because of the early action, the region has the opportunity to manage the spread of the disease and reduce the death rate.”
“We cannot stop the virus and the best evidence is that 10 to 70 percent of the world’s population will eventually be infected,” Méndez said. “The objective is to flatten the curve of the spread so health care systems do not become overwhelmed like we are seeing in Italy and Iran.”
He added that the fact that Latin America has a younger population than other affected areas will work to the region’s advantage in mitigating the impact of the virus.
Brazil, the hardest-hit country in Latin America, has closed schools, restricted the size of public gatherings and says it will announce travel bans and quarantines this weekend. At least three government officials have tested positive for the virus as the country’s official count of infections tops 200.
Honduras, with two coronavirus cases, said it is closing schools and cancel public events for two weeks, as well as restrict entry of people coming from Europe, China, Iran and South Korea. Honduras’ National Autonomous University suspended classes indefinitely.
Argentina said it would stop issuing visas to travelers and suspend flights from countries hardest-hit by the virus, including the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and European countries.
Ecuador, which declared a state of emergency Wednesday, has ordered mandatory quarantines for travelers from 10 countries as well as four U.S. states, closed schools and banned large public gatherings.
Colombia and Peru have enacted similar measures and are considering closing restaurants and night clubs in large cities.