May 16, 2020 / 12:58 AM / 15 days ago

Colombia to work together with hard-hit Brazil to fight coronavirus on border: Duque

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia will work with hard-hit Brazil to increase the military presence along their Amazonian border and share information in an effort to fight an increasing number of coronavirus cases in the area, Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Colombia's President Ivan Duque holds a news conference at the Tecnologico de Moneterrey in Mexico City, Mexico March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo

The series of measures was agreed during a virtual meeting between Colombia’s health, defense and foreign ministers and Brazilian officials, Duque said.

He made no reference to the resignation on Friday of Brazil’s health minister, whose predecessor was fired last month.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for shrugging off the severity of the pandemic, telling Brazilians to ignore quarantine restrictions and pushing for the states to re-open their economies.

Brazil’s Amazonas state said in April its health system was overwhelmed by the pandemic, with all available intensive care beds and ventilators occupied.

State capital Manaus, a city of 2 million people located in the heart of Brazil’s Amazon, has been hit particularly hard by the virus, with mass burials needed to keep up with soaring deaths.

Across the border, Colombia’s identically named Amazonas province - one of its most sparsely populated with just 66,000 inhabitants - has around 1,000 reported cases of coronavirus and at least 30 deaths.

Colombia has already put in strict quarantine measures in the province, requiring people there to stay home even as it allows some industries to return to work in other parts of the country.

“We had already strengthened military presence on the border in Amazonas province, now the authorities in Brazil are going to join that effort to have controls and special supervision above all of informal crossings,” Duque said during his nightly television broadcast.

The two countries have established daily communication protocols and a system for coordinating with local authorities along the border, Duque added.

Overall Brazil has registered 218,223 confirmed coronavirus cases and 14,817 deaths. The country confirmed 15,305 new cases on Friday, a record for a 24-hour period, as well as 824 related deaths, according to data from its health ministry.

Colombia has more than 14,200 cases and more than 540 deaths. It began a nationwide lockdown in late March which is set to end on May 25.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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