Chile and Guatemala have announced that they would join a number of other Latin American countries in closing their borders for a period of 15 days in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus across the continent.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Monday said that the border closures would go into effect on Wednesday.

Chilean nationals entering the country would be subjected to a 14-day quarantine, he said, adding that the measure would in no way affect the import and export of goods.

The announcement coincided with confirmation from Chile’s Health Ministry that the number of coronavirus in the country had risen to 155.

Guatemala imposed a similar measure on Monday, with President Alejandro Giammattei saying that “only Guatemalans will be able to enter, [but they] must go through a period of quarantine.”

“The entry of cargo will be allowed,” he said.

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Giammattei justified the decision by saying that six more people had tested positive for the virus, taking the overall toll in the country to seven.

The first patient who was diagnosed has died.

Colombia will also close its land, maritime and river borders at midnight (0500 GMT) on Tuesday until May 30.

President Ivan Duque announced the measure on Twitter, saying it would “restrict the entry and exit of the country for all national and foreign citizens” but later said the transportation of cargo will be allowed.

The news comes after Argentina, Peru, Panama, and Honduras announced border closures over the weekend.

El Salvador became the first country to seal off borders last week.

Venezuela has introduced a nationwide quarantine after the total number of cases rose to 33.

Venezuela’s health care system is severely compromised by an economic meltdown that has caused millions of people to flee the country.

The virus has reached all Latin American countries except El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti, which has closed its 380-kilometre border with the Dominican Republic.

There are no confirmed cases in Belize, which borders Mexico and Guatemala but is not considered part of Latin America.

Eight South American countries that form part of the regional alliance PROSUR have coordinated their response to the novel coronavirus, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said on Monday.

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Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, and Guyana – which all have confirmed cases – have agreed to “unify measures for the entry of people into each country,” Moreno wrote on Twitter.

He added that the countries would “undertake campaigns to deal with disinformation, biased messages and #FakeNews” and “establish joint purchasing protocols to avoid price speculation.”

PROSUR was formed last year as an alternative to UNASUR, founded in 2008 on the initiative of Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Venezuelan head of state Hugo Chavez.

Also on Monday, Ecuador’s government shut down access to the Galapagos Marine Reserve – which covers an area of around 133,000 square kilometres – in order to prevent the arrival of the virus.

The indefinite measure is “necessary to protect the health of visitors, officials and local communities that inhabit these areas,” the Environment Ministry said in a statement.

The area, which has UNESCO World Heritage Site status, and its surrounding waters represent one of the world’s richest areas of biodiversity.

Ecuador has confirmed 58 cases of the coronavirus on its territory, with two people having succumbed to the illness.

In another development, the Cuban government granted the MS Braemar – a cruise ship carrying at least five coronavirus patients – permission to dock after it was turned away several days ago in Barbados and the Bahamas.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, the British company that owns the ship, said that “flights back to the UK will be operated by British Airways and will leave Cuba on Wednesday 18th March.”

Five people on board tested positive for the coronavirus while docked in the island of Curacao.

At least 20 other passengers and 20 members of the crew have been placed in isolation after displaying flu-like symptoms.

(dpa/NAN)

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