March 11, 2020 / 9:35 PM / 19 days ago

UPDATE 3-Latin American countries order school closures over coronavirus fears

(Recasts with El Salvador suspending classes, adds San Salvador byline and dateline)

By Nelson Renteria and Elida Moreno

SAN SALVADOR/PANAMA CITY, March 11 (Reuters) - At least three Latin American governments ordered a short-term suspension of all classes, both at public and private schools, officials said on Wednesday, in a bid to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele ordered all schools to close for the next three weeks, adding in a nationally televised message that all mass gatherings would also be banned during that time despite no confirmed cases of the virus so far.

“What’s most important right now is the health of every Salvadoran,” Bukele said.

The Salvadoran school closures come shortly after officials in Peru and Panama took similar actions.

Panama’s education minister said that country would suspend classes on Wednesday, also citing coronavirus fears.

The Panama contingency measures apply to both public and private schools and will extend through at least April 7 in most of the country, Education Minister Maruja Gorday said in a statement.

Students will nonetheless continue their studies via prepared lessons that can be completed at home, an education ministry official said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra said all schools would be closed at least until March 30. Peru’s government has so far 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Brazil, which has more cases than any other Latin American country, has not issued similar restrictions.

Panama’s Health Minister Rosario Turner earlier this week announced the first death attributed to coronavirus in the Central American country, and there are 10 other confirmed cases of people who have tested positive for the highly-contagious virus.

Just north in neighboring Costa Rica, the government on Wednesday said it had confirmed 22 cases of coronavirus, nearly double the prior count. (Reporting by Elida Moreno in Panama City, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Marco Aquino in Lima; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Leslie Adler, Diane Craft and Tom Brown)

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