Venezuela’s Maduro suspends flights from Europe, Colombia over coronavirus concerns

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said that all flights from Europe and Colombia would be suspended for a month over Coronavirus concerns during a live televised press conference on Thursday.

Venezuela has not yet confirmed any cases of the virus, but the country remains alert, Maduro said. “It has not come here… but at any moment it could arrive.”

He said that public gatherings would also be suspended and that the government would be evaluating whether or not to suspend flights from other regions in the coming weeks.

Maduro said Venezuela had 30 suspected cases, but that the country had ruled them out after tests. He added that his government was making efforts to coordinate with Colombia, which has confirmed cases.

The collapse of crude oil prices, due to falling demand as the new coronavirus spreads globally and a price war between major producers Saudi Arabia and Russia, has been a “brutal hit” to Venezuela’s economy, Maduro added, without providing details.

Years of recession, hyperinflation, and underinvestment in public services have left Venezuela in poor condition to confront any cases of the coronavirus that is spreading rapidly worldwide, health workers say. Its hospitals suffer from chronic shortages of medicine and supplies, such as face masks, as well as frequent lapses in electricity and running water.[L1N2B32F8]

The Pan American Health Organization said last week it would be prioritizing Haiti, Venezuela and a handful of other countries in Central and South America that have “more challenges to their health systems.”

(Reporting by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Alistair Bell)