Virus-Inspired Prison Riot Kills 23; Latin America Clamps Down

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AFP) — Panic over the spread of the coronavirus sparked a prison riot in Colombia that killed 23 inmates Sunday, and Chile became the latest Latin American country to announce restrictions on movement.

Rioting swept through the crowded jail overnight in the Colombian capital Bogotá amid rising tensions over the virus in the prison system.

Justice Minister Margarita Cabello described the violence as an attempted mass breakout, part of what she called a coordinated plan with inmates who caused disturbances in 13 jails across the country.

A man covers his face with a handkerchief while riding on the subway in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 13, 2020. Venezuela’s Vice President Delcy Rodríguez confirmed Friday the first two cases of the new coronavirus in the South American country. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

The minister rejected accusations by rights groups that the riots were sparked by unsanitary conditions inside a prison system that was woefully unprepared to face the pandemic.

In Chile, a curfew “will take effect throughout the national territory from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. the next day,” Health Minister Jaime Manalich said Sunday. The country, which has reported 632 infections, registered its first death from the pandemic over the weekend.

Ecuador, which has the region’s second-greatest number of deaths after Brazil, saw its highest daily increase on Sunday, doubling to 14 dead and 789 positive cases.

Quito on Sunday ordered the military to take control of the worst-hit province of Guayas in the southwest of the country.

Government Minister Maria Paula Romo said the armed forces have been authorized “to manage the province of Guayas as a national security zone.” A nationwide curfew has been in place since Tuesday.

Latin American governments in the region have been stepping up efforts to try to slow the spread of the pandemic, which has claimed 13,500 lives worldwide.

Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador and Paraguay are among a growing number of countries to impose a total lockdown on their populations.

Colombia will join the group from midnight on Tuesday with a 19-day mandatory lockdown of its 48 million people.

Bolivia’s government criticized sections of the population for ignoring its lockdown on Sunday. “We are not going to do this with a 98% lockdown. We are only going to defeat the coronavirus with 100% commitment,” Defense Minister Luis Fernando Lopez said.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Sunday said the country will pay the salaries of employees at small- and medium-size companies affected by the quarantine.

The socialist leader said the measure would begin “in the month of March” but did specify where the money would come from.

Unlike other regional leaders, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has played down the crisis, though the pandemic has killed 25 in his country, with 1,546 confirmed cases.

State governors have taken matters into their own hands, with São Paulo’s Joao Doria ordering a 15-day quarantine that requires a “total closure of nonessential businesses and services” and Río’s governor closing the city’s iconic beaches.

On Sunday, Brazil’s development bank (BNDES) announced it would inject $11 billion into the economy to counteract the impact of the coronavirus.

The money will be used to protect more than 2 million jobs and to finance the suspension of interest payments and direct and indirect loans of Brazilian companies with BNDES for six months, and increase the supply of credit for small and medium businesses.

Brazil agreed with Uruguay on Sunday to close their land border for the next 30 days, to reduce the spread of the virus.

Only Brazilian citizens or residents, or Uruguayans with Brazilian spouses or children, may enter from the neighboring country.

Freight transport may continue to cross the border.

Brazil’s top football clubs are handing over their stadiums to allow health authorities to turn them into field hospitals and clinics to fight the pandemic.

With football in the country suspended until further notice, more than half the clubs in Brazil’s Serie A have given up their stadiums, as authorities in densely populated São Paulo and Río de Janeiro seek to expand hospital capacity to deal with the crisis.

Mexico City authorities on Sunday ordered bars and clubs closed after being criticized for not taking more forceful measures.

Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said museums, cinemas, theaters, gyms, bars and nightclubs would close “starting tomorrow (Monday).”

“Every day we can take new measures. These measures have to decrease contacts,” said the mayor, who called on the population to stay at home and keep their distance from other people.

Restaurants are not affected by the order, however.

© Agence France-Presse

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