May 6, 2020 / 11:39 PM / a month ago

Costa Rica and El Salvador clash over coronavirus testing numbers

SAN JOSE (Reuters) - A coronavirus war of words broke out between Costa Rica and El Salvador after Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele accused the fellow Central American country of massaging its statistics by deliberately carrying out fewer tests for the virus.

Costa Rica has been relatively successful in containing the novel coronavirus with the number of those recovering outstripping new confirmed cases for several weeks.

However, Bukele late on Tuesday said Costa Rica had made a “political decision” to do less testing.

“All Costa Rica is doing is carrying out fewer tests. It’s like us doing 100 tests tomorrow instead of 1,700. So instead of having 40 new cases we’re going to have four,” Bukele, who has applied some of the strictest measures in the Americas to combat the virus, said in a televised address.

Costa Rica’s foreign ministry on Wednesday issued a terse statement expressing “concern” about Bukele’s comments, and officials defended the country’s testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

Costa Rican authorities have so far reported 761 cases of coronavirus infection, including six deaths. Of those, 428 have recovered and there have be no new deaths in 16 days. El Salvador has registered 633 cases, 15 deaths and 219 recoveries.

Still, El Salvador has tested more aggressively for the virus, with 33,628 tests so far compared to 14,448 in Costa Rica. On Tuesday, El Salvador carried out 1,598 tests while Costa Rica’s latest daily total was 327 - less than half the number it carried out on March 26.

El Salvador has the bigger population of the two. In 2018, it was home to just over 6.4 million people, compared with almost 5 million in Costa Rica, World Bank figures show.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rodolfo Solano expressed his unease at Bukele’s comments to the Salvadoran ambassador Ana Patricia Pineda, and Health Minister Daniel Salas later defended Costa Rica’s testing regime at a news conference.

Bukele’s statements also sparked angry reactions from lawmakers and political figures in Costa Rica.

Reporting by Alvaro Murillo; Additional reporting by Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Editing by Stephen Coates

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