(CN) — El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele closed the country’s international airport on Monday to deny a Colombian airline, Avianca, from landing in San Salvador with 12 people diagnosed with COVID-19.
The flight was scheduled to pick up passengers from San Salvador on an out-of-the-way flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles. It is not clear whether the patients are U.S. citizens or visa holders from Mexico.
The Mexican foreign ministry did not deny the allegations of transporting COVID-19 positive patients on the flight but questioned how the Salvadoran authorities had learned of the plans. Apparently, someone in Mexico informed El Salvador and Bukele shut down the airport to keep the flight from landing.
Salvadorans waiting for their flight to Los Angeles were angry at first, then relieved that Bukele had kept them from being exposed to the virus.
El Salvador, one of the few Western Hemisphere countries without a confirmed case of COVID-19, has closed its borders and requires anyone wishing to enter the country to submit to mandatory isolation in quarantine centers for a minimum of 30 days.
Two cabinet members are in mandatory isolation, with the health minister reminding people that the quarantine applies to everyone. Cardinal Rosa y Chavez, the ranking figure of the nation’s Catholic Church, is housed in one of the country’s 19 isolation centers.
El Salvador’s labor minister ordered all businesses to send workers older than 60 home with pay. Seventy violations were reported Monday and the government threatened sanctions against any noncomplying company.
While El Salvador has mandated perhaps the most severe response to the medical emergency in all of Latin America, health officials say the virus could spill over into national territory and preparations for temporary hospitals and mobile treatment facilities are progressing.