[UPDATED] Venezuela Imposes Nationwide Lockdown to Combat Coronavirus

The rising number of cases has forced a full quarantine across the country.

By Paul Dobson
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Extra checkpoints have been set up on the roads leading to Caracas following the imposition of a quarantine in the city on Monday. (@ReporteVialRV / Twitter)
Extra checkpoints have been set up on the roads leading to Caracas following the imposition of a quarantine in the city on Monday. (@ReporteVialRV / Twitter)

Mérida, March 16, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government decreed a national “collective quarantine” Monday as part of ongoing efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure limits movement and commercial activity in all of the 23 states and the Capital District of Caracas. The armed forces and the National Bolivarian Police are charged with enforcing the quarantine, which applies to all citizens with the exception of those employed in food production and distribution, transport, security, healthcare, and the press.

The restrictions took effect Tuesday morning at 5:00 am, extending a partial quarantine applied in seven regions on Monday. Schools have been closed across the country.

The quarantine comes as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19), rose to 33 as of Monday evening, with new cases reported in the states of Miranda, Merida, Aragua, Anzoategui, La Guaira, Cojedes, Apure and the Caracas Capital District. The first two cases were confirmed on Friday.

According to authorities, the vast majority of the new cases were imported from the USA, Spain, and Venezuela’s neighbour, Colombia, which has confirmed 46 cases at the time of writing.

Unveiling the latest measures, President Nicolas Maduro warned the country that the quarantine “isn’t a collective holiday,” calling on the population to exercise “great social discipline, great self-control, and great psychological, moral, and spiritual support.”

The government announced a number of additional measures over the weekend, including amplifying last week’s flight restrictions to include flights arriving from Panama and the Dominican Republic, as well as making it obligatory to wear face masks in all public transport systems, terminals and airports.

Authorities have also held meetings with pharmaceutical producers and major drug store owners in order to coordinate the distribution of basic healthcare products such as vitamins, gloves and face masks at accessible prices. Efforts have also been taken to redirect production away from car seats and other fabric products at the Asivenca cooperative in Carabobo State, with the factory now due to produce facemasks which will reportedly be distributed by the Local Food Production and Provision Committees (CLAP).

As in other countries, Venezuela has seen price speculation and hoarding of basic healthcare products since the confirmation of the first cases of coronavirus. Government officials announced the arrest of five people in Caracas on Sunday for allegedly hoarding 150,000 facemasks, vowing harsh legal action against those seeking to profit from the pandemic.

A high-level Cuban medical delegation arrived in the country on Sunday to advise the Maduro administration. The delegation, which had previously been working in China, includes Cuban Health Minister Jose Ernesto Betancourt as well as the creator of antiviral drug Interferon B – used with some reported success in Italy and China.

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A Cuban medical delegation arrives in Caracas after finishing its labours fighting coronavirus in China. (VTV)
A Cuban medical delegation arrives in Caracas after finishing its labours fighting coronavirus in China. (VTV)

Venezuela also requested assistance over the weekend from two international organisations in curbing the spread of the virus.

Caracas appealed to the World Health Organisation on Saturday to mediate in coordinating cross-border prevention between Venezuela and Colombia, with Colombian President Ivan Duque acceding to the proposal Monday.

Caracas alleges that Bogota is not taking sufficient action on the border, forcing potentially infected Colombians to cross into Venezuela to avoid high medical bills at home. Venezuela also argues that Colombia’s closure of the 2,219 kilometre-long border on Saturday leads people to use unofficial crossings devoid of sanitary controls.

Likewise, the Venezuelan government has asked the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres to pressure international banks to free up funds currently blocked by the US embargo against the country.

Sanctions-induced cash flow problems have been exasperated this month amid the recent crash of global oil prices, with the price of a barrel reaching US $28 on Monday, well down from US $60 in November.

“Right now, Venezuela needs to be able to access all of its financial resources to acquire medicine and food in international markets through the resources which are blocked by the criminal blockade,” Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez told reporters on Saturday.

Updated on March 17 at 10:00 am ET.

Edited by Lucas Koerner from Santiago de Chile.