March 17, 2020 / 9:59 PM / 19 days ago

UPDATE 1-Brazil partially closing Venezuela border, allowing trucks

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BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO, March 17 (Reuters) - Brazil will partially close its border with Venezuela starting on Wednesday to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, while allowing trucks with merchandise to continue crossing, President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday.

Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta had urged closure of the border, which hundreds of Venezuelan refugees cross daily.

“We have a complex border with Venezuela. It is a country that is no longer able to provide healthcare,” Mandetta said.

The northern state of Roraima asked the government last week to close the border immediately because its health services are already overburdened by the influx of Venezuelans, who have seen their public health system crumble amid a deep economic crisis.

Bolsonaro said partially closing the border was the sensible thing to do, as the epidemic advanced in Brazil with 291 confirmed cases and the first death reported on Tuesday.

Brazil is also considering shutting all of its land borders, as other South American countries have done, officials in the government told Reuters on condition of anonymity, because the deliberations have not been made public.

Colombia closed all land borders from Tuesday until May 30. Chile will close its borders to foreigners beginning on Wednesday.

Argentina is only allowing Argentine citizens or residents to enter the country and has closed land borders except for trucks, as has Paraguay. Uruguay banned cruises and is requiring strict quarantine for anyone coming from 10 countries with higher risk of contagion.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia and Gabriel Stargardter in Rio de Janeiro Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia Editing by Brad Haynes and Lisa Shumaker

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