(Adds details of Costa Rican cases)
By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALA CITY, March 11 (Reuters) - Guatemala said on Wednesday it will ban the entry of citizens of European countries, Iran, China, South Korea and North Korea in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as governments around the world race to contain the deadly disease.
The Central American country, which has yet to confirm any cases of the virus, will put the measures into effect on Thursday, said Guatemalan Health Minister Hugo Monroy.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica said it had confirmed 22 cases of the virus, nearly double the number previously reported, giving the country the highest total in Central America.
Since emerging in China in December, the coronavirus has spread around the world, hitting South Korea, Iran and European countries such as Italy and Spain particularly hard.
Guatemalan minister Monroy said the ban would apply to all Europeans before his office later added the Asian hotspots.
“This is done simply to prevent the introduction of the coronavirus to our country,” Monroy told a news conference.
The coronavirus, now classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, has killed 827 people in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday, as he vowed to ramp up spending to fight the virus.
The Mediterranean country and Iran are now considered to be the global frontlines of the disease.
The count of confirmed cases remains relatively modest in Mexico and Central America, and public health officials are scrambling to halt the virus’s spread. Along with Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua have yet to report confirmed cases.
Panama, which reported three new cases on Wednesday, is the only country in the region to report a death from the virus thus far.
Honduras on Wednesday said it had confirmed its first two cases: a Honduran man and a Honduran woman who had been traveling in Europe. (Reporting by Sofia Menchu; additional reporting by Raul Cortes Fernandez and Julia Love; writing by Julia Love Editing by Dave Graham and Cynthia Osterman)