March 12, 2020 / 4:21 PM / 23 days ago

Colombia declares health emergency to tackle coronavirus

BOGOTA, March 12 (Reuters) - Colombia on Thursday declared a health emergency to contain an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, suspending public events with more than 500 people - including the football league - and preventing cruise ships from docking at its ports.

Health authorities in the Andean country have so far reported nine cases of COVID-19, a pandemic that has infected more than 121,600 people around the world and killed more than 4,600, according to a Reuters tally of government announcements.

The state of emergency will last until May 30 and allow the government to take quick and exceptional steps relating to the outbreak, such as directing financial resources.

President Ivan Duque said following talks with football officials he had decided to stop matches in front of live audiences. Fixtures will instead be played behind closed doors and broadcast on television.

Earlier, the country ordered arrivals from China, Italy, Spain and France to self isolate for 14 days.

The president said the government would suspend cruises from entering ports after a tourist arrived at the city of Cartegana and tested positive for the virus.

However, Duque dismissed closing schools and universities.

“At present, decisions to suspend classes have not been considered,” Duque said.

To alleviate pressure on the tourism and aviation, which have been hit hard by the outbreak, the government extended deadlines for submitting tax declarations in these two sectors, temporarily cut tariffs for imports of health products and aircraft parts, and opened a $65 million fund for loans. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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