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ECONOMY | 16-03-2020 22:39

Chile, Peru close borders as Latam grounds flights over pandemic

Chile and Peru announced a total closure of its borders on Monday while Latin America's largest airline announces it is reducing operations by 70 percent, as region scrambles to deal with coronavirus pandemic.

Chile and Peru announced a total closure of their borders on Monday while Latin America's largest airline said it was reducing operations by 70 percent as the region scrambled to stem the rapidly-spreading coronavirus pandemic.

Latin America has registered more than 800 cases and seven deaths, according to an AFP count, after the Dominican Republic became the latest nation to report a fatality.

"We've decided to close all our country's terrestrial, maritime and aerial borders for the transit of foreigners," said Chile's President Sebastian Pinera.

The announcement came as Chile revealed on Monday its number of coronavirus cases had more than doubled since Sunday to 155.

Peru followed suit soon afterwards with President Martín Vizcarra announcing a two-week measure "today, from midnight."

It's part of the state of emergency declared late on Sunday but like Chile, cargo will not be affected by the border closures.

Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay confirmed partial closures of their borders, while the government in Asuncion imposed a night time curfew.

"Only foreign residents, diplomats and members of international organisations can enter" from Argentina and Brazil, said Paraguay's Migration Director María de los Ángeles Arriola Aguirre.

Due to the spate of border closures "and the subsequent fall in demand," Latam said it was reducing operations by 70 percent, just four days after already cutting back by 30 percent.

"If these unprecedented travel restrictions increase over the coming days, we're not ruling out being forced to decrease our operations even more," said Latam's commercial Vice-President Roberto Alvo.

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador bucked the trend, though, saying he won't ban public gatherings or stop greeting people with "hugs" until public health officials tell him the time has come.

Stocks tumble

Chile rolled out a number of coronavirus control measures as the central bank slashed interest rates by 75 points to 1.0 percent.

It didn't prevent the Santiago stock exchange closing down 14 percent, its worst fall in three decades as investors continued to panic.

Stocks throughout the region were hit hard as the Sao Paulo exchange lost almost 14 percent, The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange closed 10 percent down and Colombia was down more than 15 percent before suspending trading until Tuesday.

Brazil's real closed below five to the dollar for the first time.

The government then announced an emergency investment of almost 150 billion reals (US$27.5 billion) into the economy to try to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

Chile's closed borders caused a problem for a quarantined cruise ship in the deep south of the country.

More than 200 passengers and crew aboard the Silver Explorer in the remote port of Caleta Tortel, some 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) south of the capital Santiago, are in lock down after six people tested positive for coronavirus.

They have been taken to hospital and health authorities want to evacuate the remaining passengers back to their home countries, but may need special permission.

"We've taken the decision to ask the countries whose nationals are present on this ship... to conduct an evacuation operation from the Puerto Montt airbase" more than 1,00 kilometres away, said Health Minister Jaime Manalich.

Cuba helping Nicaragua

Cuba, though, said it was allowing a British cruise ship to dock despite five people on board being infected with the coronavirus and nearly 40 others in isolation with flu-like symptoms.

"We are working around the clock to arrange evacuation flights from Cuba to the UK as soon as possible for passengers on the Braemar cruise ship," a British foreign ministry spokesman said.

Cuba is also sending specialist doctors to Nicaragua to help the central American country treat COVID-19 patients.

Ecuador, which has seen 58 cases and two deaths, banned tourists from the Galapagos Islands on Monday while authorities in Rio de Janeiro used megaphones to order people at the beach to go home.

Rio's Flamengo, the reigning Copa Libertadores champions, revealed that their Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus is the latest sports star to have tested positive for the virus.

Honduras announced a week-long lock down that will prevent people from going to work, using public transport or taking part in religious activities.

People are only allowed to leave their homes to buy food or medicine or to go to health centres or authorised employment such as in pharmacies.

- TIMES/AFP

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