By Laura Gamba
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) - Fear has gripped South America after Brazil confirmed its first coronavirus case on Wednesday.
The victim is a 61-year-old Brazilian man who contracted the virus on a recent trip to Lombardy, Italy -- which has been hit hard by the coronavirus.
Governments have increased security measures at the points of entry anticipating a potential outbreak.
Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) recommended Wednesday that countries intensify their preparation plans to deal with COVID-19, the official name of the virus.
“There are measures in place for detecting, diagnosing and caring for patients with disease. A strong emphasis on stopping transmission continues to be an important objective while recognizing that the situation may vary from country to country and will require tailored responses,” she said in a statement.
Brazil's Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta confirmed the first case during the annual Rio Carnival, which attracts a steady flow of tourists.
Mandetta said authorities are trying to identify people who have been in contact with the patient, who is currently in quarantine.
Health Ministry official Wanderson Kleber de Oliveira said 20 more cases are being investigated, of whom 12 had traveled to Italy and one to China.
Just a few days earlier, a group of 58 nationals who returned home from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began, were released from a 14-day quarantine at a Brazilian airbase after testing negative for the coronavirus.
Colombia's interim Health Minister Ivan Dario Gonzalez said he was raising the alert level from low to moderate, even though the country has yet to confirm a coronavirus case.
The Health Ministry and migration authorities are stepping up controls at ports and coordinating contingency plans with airlines. Passengers are undergoing inquiries about their visits to China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, UAE, and Italy.
Four Colombian citizens who arrived in Colombia from Milan had been isolated as suspected coronavirus carriers but were discharged on Wednesday after testing negative for the virus.
A chartered flight departed Wuhan on Wednesday with 15 Colombians and eight foreigners.
After technical stops in Mumbai and Madrid, the plane is expected to return home on Friday. Colombia has said that those evacuated from Wuhan “will be treated under strict protocol conditions to protect them and the community".
Authorities have designated a hospital as a quarantine site in Bogota but it has not disclosed its specific location for safety reasons.
At least 260 cases are being monitored for coronavirus in Chile, but there are no confirmed cases yet, Health Minister Jaime Manalich said.
The latest case reported by health authorities is that of a 45-year-old Chilean woman in the south of the country who arrived from Italy in recent days and presented symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus. However, authorities have reported the preliminary tests results were negative.
Chile's government increased security measures on airports to prevent the entry of the virus into the country, including requesting a sworn statement from travelers as of Feb. 28.
The foreign minister said individuals coming from Italy, South Korea, Japan and China were being separated, interrogated and subjected to a clinical examination if necessary.
- Peru and Argentina
Health specialists are analyzing three samples for possible coronavirus cases in Peru.
Last Tuesday, Health Minister Elizabeth Hinostroza announced that she has set up five hospitals in Lima to treat possible coronavirus cases.
Security was beefed up at Peru's seaports, airports and landmarks.
Argentinian Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia played down the impact of coronavirus. He said other diseases such as dengue, measles and influenza generate more concerns.
No cases have been confirmed in the country yet.
Gonzalez Garcia told reporters: “We are going to apply a different protocol to passengers who come from Italy. They will land on a different platform where they will have different controls. They will also sign an affidavit saying that they have not felt any kind of symptoms.”
- Global alarm
The coronavirus has sounded global alarm, with China, where the virus originated, reporting more than 2,700 deaths and health experts grappling to find a cure.
Outside mainland China, the virus has spread to more than 30 countries, including the U.S., U.K., Singapore, France, Russia, Spain and India.
The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak an international health emergency.