The streets of the Colombian capital Bogota were empty on the first day of lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. — AFP/VNA Photo
MONTEVIDEO — Countries across Latin America tightened measures on Wednesday to halt the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, with more lockdowns, border closings and school closures as well as increased aid to the region's poorest.
As cases of COVID-19 cases continue to rise -- more than 7,400 and 123 deaths up to now -- Bolivia and Colombia became the latest countries to impose a total lockdown, while Chile extended its schools closures until the end of April.
Here are the latest measures taken in several Latin American countries:
Bolivia is closing its borders and ordering a strict lockdown until April 15 starting at midnight on Wednesday, President Jeanine Anez said, as she declared a state of "sanitary emergency".
The measures are designed to add teeth to a lockdown that was ordered on Sunday but has largely been ignored.
More police and soldiers have been deployed to enforce the measures, Anez said.
There are narrow exceptions to who can cross the border and times at which people can be outside, Anez said.
A three-week total lockdown began just after midnight on Tuesday.
"Stay at home, prevent the virus from spreading and save lives," said President Ivan Duque.
Colombia, population 48 million, will be locked up until April 12.
Nearly 500 cases of the deadly virus have been reported in Colombia.
The capital city Bogota had already been on lockdown on orders from the mayor since Sunday.
Some 1.3 million residents of Santiago -- including those of the Chilean capital's most affluent neighborhoods -- will be on lockdown for least a week starting at 0100 GMT Thursday, officials said.
This followed orders extending school closures until May. Classes were suspended on March 16, just under two weeks after the first novel coronavirus case was recorded.
The lockdown areas "concentrate the greatest number of cases, and the movement of people can generate more contagions," said Health Minister Jaime Manalich.
"This means that people will have to stay at home," he emphasized.
Chile has more than 1,100 recorded infections and three deaths from the virus.
Panama will allow the cruise ship Zaandam -- operated by the Holland America cruise line -- to sail through its canal even though there are 42 people aboard the ship with flu-like symptoms, Health Minister Rosario Turner said on Wednesday.
The ship, with 1,800 passengers aboard, set sail on March 7 from Buenos Aires, with the destination of San Antonio, on the central coast of Chile.
But the ship had to alter its plans when ports along the way stopped it from docking due to the coronavirus crisis.
Every ship that reaches Panama must present a list of sick people, "and if we suspect there are people with respiratory problems, they cannot land," Turner said.
The Zaandam is set to cross the 80km inter-oceanic canal on Thursday and meet up on the Caribbean side with another cruise ship, the Rotterdam, which is to deliver supplies and kits to test for the COVID-19 virus.
Its aim is to reach Fort Lauderdale, Florida on March 30, the cruise line said.
There have been 558 cases of the new coronavirus in Panama, including eight deaths.
Soldiers have begun distributing food to locked-down residents of the poorest neighborhoods of the capital Tegucigalpa.
President Juan Orlando Hernandez said 800,000 poor families -- 3.2 million people -- would receive food to ensure they stayed indoors.
Honduras has recorded 36 COVID-19 cases so far.
President Jair Bolsonaro has warned of possible "chaos" and the "looting" of supermarkets if state shutdowns ordered by the governors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro aren't ended.
Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly scoffed at the severity of the deadly pandemic, had previously criticized the closing of schools and businesses in Sao Paulo and Rio states, two of the country's most populous states.
"Companies aren't producing anything. They can't pay their employees. And if the economy collapses, there won't be any way to pay public officials. We are facing chaos," Bolsonaro said.
If that happened and supermarkets were looted, he said, "we'll have chaos plus the virus."
BBVA, the largest bank in Mexico, has predicted that the coronavirus outbreak will cause the economy to contract by 4.5 percent in 2020.
The Spanish bank said Mexican exports would be hard hit by a reduction in demand from the United States, its largest trading partner, if virus containment measures continue.
BBVA also said remittances sent to family members in Mexico could be hit by rising unemployment in the United States.
Other banks, such as Barclays and Credit Suisse, predicted the economy would shrink by 2-4 per cent.
Dueling demos: labor activists and their supporters banged of pots and pans from balconies late Wednesday demanding measures that would protect workers during the coronavirus crisis -- only to be met by government supporters singing the national anthem at the exact same time.
There are 217 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Uruguay. — AFP