PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti received a deportation flight on Thursday from the United States of 129 Haitians, including minors, days after three deportees who arrived on the previous flight tested positive for the new coronavirus.
A growing trend of contagion among deportees from the United States to Latin America has fostered criticism that it is exporting the virus to poorer countries that have fewer confirmed cases and would be devastated by a major outbreak.
Haiti Foreign Ministry senior official Israel Jacky Cantave told Reuters Haiti had asked for all deportees to be tested but the U.S. government had only agreed to test those with symptoms - a problem given many carriers are asymptomatic.
The poorest country in the Americas, which has limited testing capacity, is placing all deportees in a quarantine facility for two weeks upon arrival.
But security at such facilities has proven to be weak, with one of the three deportees from a flight two weeks ago to have tested positive for the virus last weekend having escaped.
Critics of the Haitian government blame it for not standing up to the administration of President Donald Trump which has backed President Jovenel Moise throughout the violent protests that have rocked his term in office.
Haitian Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe has said repeatedly the deportees have the right to come home although his government has issued requirements for other Haitians to return so onerous they would be hard to fulfill.
According to the new rules, made public this week, they must present proof of a negative coronavirus test and pay to be quarantined for 14 days at one of two Port-au-Prince hotels designated by the government.
The new virus has spread slowly in Haiti, which has confirmed 72 cases and 5 deaths so far. But the U.S. deportations and return of thousands of Haitian workers from the Dominican Republic, which is one of the worst affected countries in the region, could soon change that.
Doctors warn a major outbreak would be devastating as the healthcare system is already collapsing - Haiti has just 100 ventilators for 11 million residents. The supply of water and sanitation infrastructure is poor and the country is densely populated.
Moreover, with two thirds of Haitians living under the poverty level, most cannot afford to self isolate and continue to go about their daily lives. Vendors in the capital protested on Thursday against a decision by authorities to limit market days to three times a week.
Reporting by Andre Paultre; Writing by Sarah Marsh; editing by Grant McCool