Home / Health / Coronavirus: 8 South American countries take joint action; Turkey suspends mass prayers, shuts cafes, cinemas; Belgium gets gov’t 10 months after polls; Chile, Guatemala close borders; China reports just 1 new domestic case in new low

Coronavirus: 8 South American countries take joint action; Turkey suspends mass prayers, shuts cafes, cinemas; Belgium gets gov’t 10 months after polls; Chile, Guatemala close borders; China reports just 1 new domestic case in new low

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, WHO

Mexico City, March 17, 2020

Eight South American countries that form part of the regional alliance PROSUR have coordinated their response to the novel coronavirus, according to Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno.
Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, and Guyana 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.
The 12-member alliance was created to promote regional integration as a bulwark against U.S. influence, but was plagued by political divisions and infighting over how to handle the economic and political crisis in Venezuela.

Turkey has suspended congregational prayers in mosques and closed cafes, cinemas, and sports venues to contain the spread of coronavirus as the confirmed cases climbed to 47.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said late on Monday that Turkey had 29 new coronavirus cases, taking the total to 47 since the first positive test was announced on March 11.
All 29 people had “directly or indirectly” been in contact with the U.S., the Middle East or Europe, including three who returned from the Umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, Koca tweeted.
While Turkish authorities haven’t reported any deaths from the COVID-19 disease, the government has ramped up measures to ward off an outbreak.
Koca said flights to six more countries would be banned, bringing the total to 20 nations.
The latest travel ban – to Britain, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates – will go into effect at 8 am (0500 GMT) on Tuesday.
Earlier, Turkey’s highest religious authority suspended all mass services, including Friday prayers, at mosques across the country.
Ali Erbas, the head of the religious affairs directorate (Diyanet), said that mosques would remain open for individuals, but not for group prayers.
“Until the danger of spreading the new type of coronavirus disappears, it has become necessary to interrupt prayers with the community in mosques and masjids [small mosques or prayer rooms], especially Friday prayers,” Erbas told a press conference.
The decision affects tens of thousands of mosques across the country.
The Diyanet head urged the faithful to pray at home.
Noting that one of the main tenets of Islam is to protect people’s lives, Erbas recounted how the prophet Mohammed had cautioned believers not to leave places hit by the plague and to respect quarantine instructions.
The Interior Ministry ordered the nationwide closure of cafes, restaurants, cinemas, wedding halls, casinos and amusement parks.
Also included on the list of temporary closures were indoor children’s playgrounds, internet cafes, Turkish baths, spas, massage parlours, shisha lounges, swimming pools and sports facilities, the ministry said. There was no indication of how long these measures would last.
The ministry had earlier called for bars, discos and nightclubs in all 81 provinces to be shuttered.
Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul announced additional measures, such as postponing court hearings.
The government has already closed schools and universities, and quarantined thousands of pilgrims returning from Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will on Wednesday hold a coordination meeting on the fight against the new virus and address the nation on next steps to be taken, his communications director Fahrettin Altun said.
Belgium’s caretaker Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes has been handed special powers to lead the country through the coronavirus outbreak, 10 months after inconclusive elections delivered poor prospects for a coalition.
King Philippe mandated Wilmes to form a government on Monday in Brussels, the Belga news agency reported, after seven opposition parties agreed to back her minority administration, itself composed of three parties.
Wilmes’ administration is limited to a maximum of six months and will be focused on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.
The tripartite minority government commands just 38 seats in Belgium’s 150-member federal parliament.
Belgium has so far detected 1,058 cases of the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, with five fatalities.
Wilmes already introduced a partial lockdown on Friday, closing cafes and restaurants, and as of Monday stopping all teaching in schools.
The Belgian political landscape is highly fractured, with a French-speaking south marked by post-industrial decline and a more prosperous Dutch-speaking north, where many demand greater autonomy or even independence.
This makes building a viable federal government ruling the two regions difficult.
The two biggest centrist parties, the French-speaking Socialists and the Dutch-speaking centre-right N-VA refuse to work together.
Wilmes is from the French-speaking Liberals.
Belgian government formation tends to be a lengthy, complex process.
In 2010, it took a record 541 days.
Mexico City
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 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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, China reported 21 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday along with 13 new deaths caused by the illness COVID-19, according to the latest figures from the National Health Commission.
All but one of the new confirmed cases are imported, brought into the country by citizens returning from abroad.
Only one new case was recorded in Hubei province, where the outbreak first began in December last year – a new daily low for the country, where imported cases surpassed domestic ones for the first time on Sunday.
COVID-19 has killed 3,226 people in China and infected a total of 80,881 people, of whom 68,679 have recovered.
As the respiratory disease continues to spread globally and kill thousands in Europe, official figures from Chinese health authorities point to complete containment of the virus within its source country.

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