El Salvador, Guatemala ramp up coronavirus fight, impose curfews

SAN SALVADOR/GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - The governments of El Salvador and Guatemala announced curfews on Saturday that will restrict the movement of their residents, as Central America ramps up its fight to contain the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus.

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Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele ordered residents to quarantine at home for 30 days, a measure he admitted would cause “discomfort” but that he said was necessary to slow the spread of the disease which has infected three people in the impoverished nation.

“We are going to make some quick decisions that are going to have mistakes, that are going to cause discomfort, that are going to have incredible costs for our economy,” said Bukele in a nationally broadcast speech.

During the curfew only one person per family unit will be allowed out to shop. Also exempted from the curfew will be public servants, doctors, road, energy, banks and restaurant workers, as well as journalists, the military, the police and food distributors.

More than 274,800 people have been infected across the world by the coronavirus and 11,389 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

In Guatemala, President Alejandro Giammattei also ordered an eight-day curfew that begins on Sunday.

“If we look at the growth curve of the disease we are entering the most dangerous weeks,” Giammattei said from a warehouse complex that has been turned into a temporary hospital to care for infected patients.

“It has not been easy to make decisions, it has not been easy to feel the responsibility of 18 million (people) on my back. From tomorrow a curfew will go into effect in our country for eight days from four in the afternoon until four in the morning of the next day,” he said.

Governments across Central America, a region of some 50 million inhabitants, have over the past week taken increasingly stronger measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as restricting flights, cancelling massive events and suspending classes.

Still, infections are on the rise, and as of Saturday there were 17 cases and one death in Guatemala, 26 infections in Honduras and two in Nicaragua. Meanwhile, Panama reported 245 cases of coronavirus on Saturday, from 200 a day earlier, including two new deaths.

In Costa Rica, which has 117 confirmed cases and two deaths, congress on Saturday gave its first approval to a $500 million line of credit with the Development Bank of Latin America to combat the crisis.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City, Elida Moreno in Panama City, Alvaro Murillo in San Jose, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Ismael Lopez in Managua; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Sam Holmes and Christopher Cushing