April 21, 2020 / 1:56 AM / a month ago

Exporting coronavirus? Infections among U.S. deportees reach Haiti, Mexico

MEXICO CITY/PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Mexico and Haiti have detected coronavirus infections among migrants deported recently from the United States, officials said on Tuesday, part of a growing trend of contagion among deportees.

FILE PHOTO: Personnel of the Guatemala's Health Ministry, wearing protective suits and masks, disinfect themselves at a temporary shelter for Guatemalan migrants who arrived in the country on U.S. deportation flights, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Guatemala City, Guatemala April 16, 2020. Picture taken April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria/File Photo

The new infections come after an outbreak among deportees to Guatemala, where the government at the weekend linked almost a fifth of all cases of the new coronavirus in the country to flights returning migrants from the United States last week.

All three affected countries have far fewer confirmed cases of the disease than the United States.

Three Haitians who arrived in the Caribbean country two weeks ago tested positive while in quarantine, a Health Ministry official told Reuters. The flight had raised objections from human rights advocates worried about exporting the virus to the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

In the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo, one man deported from Houston infected 14 others at the Catholic church’s Nazareth migration shelter, state authorities and the city’s bishop said. Cubans, Mexicans, Hondurans and a migrant from Cameroon were among those who caught the virus, officials said. The 15 who tested positive, who include three children 16 years old and under, have been placed in isolation, shelter authorities said.

It is not clear where the deportees contracted the virus, but the new cases led to calls for deportations to be suspended unless U.S. authorities can test migrants before they leave the country.

Workers at some U.S. deportation and migrant detention facilities have tested positive for the virus, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has said.

Rachel Schmidtke, Refugees International’s advocate for Latin America, said that while the source of the infections was still not known, keeping migrants in crowded detention centers increased the risk of contracting the virus.

“Nobody should be deported unless they have been tested and they test negatively for Covid-19,” Schmidtke said.

Haiti so far only has 57 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Haiti’s prime minister, Joseph Jouthe, said another flight carrying more than 100 Haitian deportees was expected this week.

“These are Haitians, they are coming home, we must accept them,” he told a local radio station. Jouthe did not mention the infections on the earlier flight.

U.S. Representative Andy Levin, a Democrat, said on Twitter that the new flight to Haiti should be stopped to prevent a wider spread of the disease.

“These deportations are immoral, and they put both Americans and Haitians at risk,” he wrote.

Guatemala has temporarily suspended flights while officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) review the test results of an April 13 deportation flight to Guatemala.

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said on Monday a total of 51 migrants deported by the United States to the Central American country had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Neither the CDC nor the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees deportations, has commented on the number of cases among deportees.

“Review is a good practice any time laboratory or epidemiology results vary from previous expectations,” Jasmine Reed, spokeswoman for the CDC said on Monday.

Reporting by Diego Ore in Mexico City, Sarah March in Havana, Andre Paultre in Port-Au-Prince and Ted Hesson in Washington; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Leslie Adler

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