(Updates with statement from Panama Canal Authority)
By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALA CITY, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Central American governments have imposed travel restrictions to try to keep out the coronavirus, including barring travelers who have recently visited China, officials said on Friday.
The coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, the capital of China’s central Hubei province, and has spread to more than 9,800 people globally.
Guatemala and El Salvador have announced blanket restrictions on people who have recently been in China. Costa Rican officials said they will monitor transit points such as airports, but for now will allow Chinese travelers to enter the country.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said his country’s ban applies to those who have been to China in the last 15 days.
“The purpose is to shield Guatemala from coronavirus,” he told reporters after visiting a public hospital.
President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador had announced a similar ban on Thursday night, describing it as a “prudent” but unspecified amount of time.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, meanwhile, told reporters that his government would soon make an announcement aimed at “effective management of this situation.”
The Panama Canal Authority said that ships arriving in canal waters, whether to port or transit, must report suspected cases 30 days prior to arrival if they have called at ports located in countries with confirmed cases.
There are more than 130 confirmed cases in 24 countries and regions outside mainland China, but no deaths have been reported beyond its borders. The death toll in China is 213.
The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
Guatemala’s Giammattei, a retired doctor who took office this month, said the travel restriction applies to people entering via the country’s ports, airports and land crossings.
Giammattei said crews on ships arriving in Guatemalan ports that have been in China during the previous 15 days would not be allowed to enter, and that any crew member who did enter would immediately be quarantined. (Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Alvaro Murillo in San Jose and Elida Moreno in Panama City; Writing by David Alire Garcia and Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Dave Graham, Grant McCool and Jonathan Oatis)