Mexico holds out against travel curbs despite Trump restrictions

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico said on Thursday it was not planning to clamp down on international travel to the country or close its borders due to the coronavirus outbreak despite major U.S. curbs announced a day earlier.

Anticipating the arrival of thousands of tourists from North America in the spring break holiday period, Mexico’s government said it saw no grounds yet to follow tougher measures taken by an increasing number of countries trying to stop the virus.

Standing alongside President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said there was no scientific evidence that tightening access to ports of entry would play a significant role in protecting public health.

“Restricting international travel to Mexico is not planned, nor is it being considered. Nor is closing borders or maritime ports,” he told a regular government news conference.

Screening travelers at points of departure could, however, help prevent the spread of the virus, Lopez-Gatell noted.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sweeping restrictions to prevent people from 26 European countries from traveling to the United States for a month as he responded to mounting pressure to contain the coronavirus.

Mexico has reported only 12 cases of coronavirus infection, a tiny fraction of the number of U.S. cases. The tally has surprised some health experts and raised questions among critics about whether the government is doing enough.

“This disparity in information needn’t alarm us,” said Lopez-Gatell, adding his government was in regular contact with U.S. and Canadian authorities.

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The official noted that Mexico was expecting to welcome many spring break vacationers from North America in the coming weeks, and that many Mexicans would travel north.

Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange revenue to Mexico, whose economy slipped into recession last year. The coronavirus scare is beginning to filter through.

On Thursday morning, Tourism Minister Miguel Torruco said Mexico was postponing by six months the Tianguis Turistico, one of Mexico’s top tourism fairs.

Lopez-Gatell said Mexico was reviewing controls it had in place against coronavirus, and could bolster its response depending on how infections spread.

Based on the experience of other countries, he estimated Mexico could be reporting its first cases of human-to-human infection in about two weeks.

The health ministers of Mexico, the United States and Canada will hold a teleconference next week to discuss the virus, Lopez-Gatell said.

Reporting by Dave Graham and Adriana Barrera; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Steve Orlofsky and Richard Chang