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LATIN AMERICA | 23-03-2020 18:27

Bolivia begins total quarantine, postpones presidential election

Bolivian interim leader Jeanine Áñez announced a complete quarantine to come into effect from Sunday in a bid to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Bolivia began a 14-day total quarantine on Sunday due to the coronavirus pandemic, which already has 20 cases in the country where electoral authorities ordered Saturday to postpone the presidential election scheduled for May for an indefinite period.

In the evening, military and police vehicles began to tour the main Bolivian cities warning passers-by and merchants to retreat to their homes.

"We have 20,000 troops mobilised throughout the country. Tomorrow the circulation should drop almost to zero. We have instructions not to allow people to disobey because they are putting everyone's life at risk," Interior Minister Arturo Murillo told the press.

The mandatory quarantine was ordered by interim President Jeanine Áñez on Saturday, when she reported this "tough decision, but one that is necessary for the good of all.

The measure implies that the population must "be at home 24 hours a day," because "it is the way to defeat the coronavirus," the president proclaimed.

Despite agreements with neighbourhood organisations in the city of El Alto, near La Paz, some people remained in the streets, defying the uniformed officers.  

"We are going to be drastic and if people resist, we are going to have to arrest them," the minister warned.

The decree establishing the quarantine provides for detention for eight hours and a fine equivalent to 70 dollars for those who break the mandatory quarantine.

On Friday night, when a ban on movement was in force, the La Paz Public Prosecutor's Office reported the arrest of 17 people in El Alto.

Deferred vote

Hours after the general confinement was ordered, and despite being outside of that period, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) reported the indefinite postponement of the presidential election scheduled for 3 May.

The Bolivian electoral body declared it hoped to foster "a broad and pluralistic dialogue with all the political organisations involved in the process" in order to define "a new date for voting day in the 2020 general election."

The May elections had been called in an extraordinary manner by the transitional government of Jeanine Áñez, who took office after the resignation of Evo Morales (2006-2019) amidst the social unrest that followed the October 20 elections, which were annulled after an OAS audit reported irregularities.

Among other force majeure measures, Bolivia closed its air and land borders since Saturday and limited interdepartmental passenger transportation.

The movement of public and private vehicles was also prohibited, except for those carrying supplies.

The Government Minister guaranteed the supply of the supply centres, which will remain open until noon.

The financial regulatory authority guaranteed the services, although they will operate with minimum personnel, so they recommended the use of virtual channels.

Due to the quarantine, some newspapers, such as Los Tiempos de Cochabamba (centre), announced the suspension of their print editions.

After the announcement, many Bolivians filled fairs and supermarkets to stock up on basic products, which registered price increases. There were also long lines at ATMs and gas stations.

Disadvantages include citizens stranded in other countries, such as those left in Lima. The Bolivian Foreign Ministry confirmed the repatriation on Saturday night of a group of 70 citizens who were at the airport in the Peruvian capital.

Wearing a biosecurity suit, Health Minister Aníbal Cruz said on state television that the repatriated citizens did not have "any symptoms", but that they had to comply with security measures, so they will be in "voluntary isolation for 14 days in a shelter" intended for that purpose.

No minimum input

Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, had decreed a limited quarantine since mid-week, with measures such as reduced working hours and bans on night-time travel.

At this juncture, the directors of the largest public hospital complex in La Paz issued a statement reporting a lack of supplies to deal with the pandemic and a lack of preparation of medical personnel.

"We do not have the minimum supplies such as caps, chinstraps, boots, glasses, gowns, and even less high-end supplies such as intensive care medicines. They send us to war without weapons, condemning us to fight in unfavourable conditions," the communiqué pointed.

by Gerardo Bustillos, Agence France-Presse

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