March 19, 2020 / 7:17 PM / 12 days ago

Ecuador city blocks plane sent to pick up travelers stranded due to coronavirus

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador/QUITO, March 19 (Reuters) - The mayor of Ecuador’s second-largest city said the municipality had blocked the landing of a plane sent from Europe to pick up passengers stranded in the Andean country due to restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The coastal city of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second-largest city, placed some of government vehicles on the runway of the city’s airport on Wednesday afternoon to prevent the plane, belonging to Spanish airline Iberia, from landing to collect the 190 passengers.

The mayor, Cynthia Viteri, later on Wednesday said the action was taken to “defend the city of Guayaquil,” which had 111 of the country’s 199 coronavirus cases as of Thursday, according to official figures. Three people have died of the disease so far in the country.

The plane ultimately landed in Quito, the country’s highland capital.

Viteri said on Thursday that she had tested positive for the virus.

Ecuador’s government on Thursday said it could take legal action against the municipality, authorities said of Thursday. Alexandra Ocles, the director of the country’s Risk Management Service, called Guayaquil’s move a violation of civil aviation norms.

“It is a regrettable event because it puts the country in a complex situation, especially with the good relations Ecuador has with European countries,” Ocles told reporters, describing the Iberia flight as a “humanitarian” act.

Foreign travelers have been stranded in Ecuador ever since the country suspended flights on Sunday to contain the coronavirus’ spread. Iberia’s flight was permitted because it arrived with no passengers and only crew members, according to transportation minister Gabriel Martinez.

“This will have consequences,” Martinez said in a television interview, adding that the government had spoken with the embassies of the countries whose citizens were set to board the flight. (Reporting by Yury Garcia and Alexandra Valencia Writing by Luc Cohen; editing by Diane Craft)

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