March 17, 2020 / 12:27 AM / 14 days ago

Venezuela's to implement nationwide quarantine as coronavirus cases rise to 33

A crowded bus with people using protective masks passes through a checkpoint after the start of quarantine in response to the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Caracas, Venezuela, March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

(Reuters) - Venezuela will implement a nationwide quarantine after detecting 16 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, President Nicolas Maduro said, adding that the total number of cases in the South American country has risen to 33.

“It is necessary, it is indispensable, it is the response,” Maduro said in an address on state television. “The crude crisis, crisis, crisis is just starting.”

The country on Monday had begun a quarantine in a handful of states, which Maduro said had been successful.

But many across the economic crisis-stricken nation went out anyway, saying they could not afford not to work as the once-prosperous OPEC nation suffers a crippling economic crisis.

Maduro added that the country would be receiving shipments of medicine from Cuba and protective gear and “thousands” of test kits from China. He said the government would be announcing benefits for citizens, without providing details.

The collapse of oil prices in the past week, due to a drop in demand related to coronavirus as well as a price war between top producers Saudi Arabia and Russia, threatens to aggravate the six-year recession in Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy.

Maduro said that at current oil prices, the value of a barrel of Venezuelan oil was below the cost of production. He said he had met with representatives of a leading private sector industry association on Monday.

“We need to guarantee the functioning of the economy during the quarantine,” Maduro said.

Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Sandra Maler

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