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Brazil closes borders, Mexico announces first death from pandemic

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South America's biggest country Brazil on Thursday announced it was closing land borders to nearly all its neighbors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as Mexico reported its first virus death.

[BRASÍLIA] South America's biggest country Brazil on Thursday announced it was closing land borders to nearly all its neighbors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as Mexico reported its first virus death.

People in several cities in Colombia and Brazil mounted pot-banging "cacerolazo" protests from apartment balconies against the failure of their governments to act quickly against the pandemic.

Chile, rocked by months of social protests, unveiled an US$11.75 billion economic stimulus package to cope with the effects of the virus on the giant copper producer.

Meanwhile, a plane operated by Spanish carrier Iberia sent to Ecuador to pick up stranded foreigners was prevented from landing at an airport in Guayaquil, which is under lockdown.

Cynthia Viteri, mayor of Ecuador's second city, said she ordered vehicles to block the runway of the international airport to prevent the plane from landing.

The flight from Madrid, with only crew aboard, was able to land later in Quito.

Ecuador has banned all flights since Monday to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Mexico reported its first coronavirus death - a 41-year-old man with diabetes who died Wednesday in Mexico City. Mexico has 118 confirmed cases of infection.

Latin America has so far recorded 1,921 cases and 18 deaths.

CHILE STIMULUS PLAN

Chile's stimulus plan "will strengthen our ability to face the health, economic and social needs that the coronavirus pandemic is signifying and that will probably tend to worsen in the future," President Sebastian Pinera told a press conference.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich announced a lockdown of Chile's Easter Island, saying no one could enter or leave the remote Pacific island for the next two weeks.

Mr Manalich said that though none of the island's 7,000 population had the disease, many people from the island were trying to return and risked carrying the virus back with them.

Chile has registered 342 cases of the virus to date.

Colombia will block all international flights from Monday for 30 days, President Ivan Duque announced Thursday.

"As of 00:00 hours on March 23, the arrival of all international passenger flights to the country's airports is prohibited," the president wrote on Twitter.

Mr Duque said the shutout was necessary because some people who had entered the country had tried to avoid mandatory quarantine regulations.

Colombia closed its land and sea borders on Tuesday.

BOGOTA CONFINEMENT 

Bogota city hall said the capital's seven million people would face confinement from Friday to Monday as part of a trial run for a probable future quarantine.

Other cities across Colombia, which has more than 100 cases of the coronavirus, were also under nighttime curfews.

Brazil said its 15-day border closure would affect all neighboring countries, with the exception of Uruguay to the south.

It shut its border with Venezuela on Tuesday.

Senior Brazilian officials, such as Chamber of Deputies speaker Rodrigo Maia, had called for a total border shutdown.

Latin America's largest country, with a population of 210 million, has so far registered 428 cases of the coronavirus, with four deaths.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, the lawmaker son of the Brazil's president, joined US President Donald Trump in criticising China over the pandemic, prompting demands from Beijing for an apology.

China's embassy accused Mr Bolsonaro of perpetuating the anti-China stance of Trump, who repeatedly refers to the "Chinese virus."

"We are familiar with your irresponsible words. You imitate your dear (American) friends. On your return from Miami, you unfortunately caught a mental virus, which infected the friendship between our peoples," the embassy said in a tweet.

AFP