3rd Guatemalan tests positive for virus after US deportation

Immigration workers, wearing masks as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus, stand on the tarmac at La Aurora International airport as Guatemalans arrive who were deported from the U.S., Guatemala City, Thursday, March 12, 2020. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala said Tuesday that a third deportee has tested positive for the coronavirus after being flown home by the United States.

The report came a day after authorities announced they were suspending deportation flights from the U.S. over concerns about spreading the virus.

The Health Ministry said the latest positive case was a 37-year-old man who was deported March 26 from Mesa, Arizona, and had been in quarantine since his return.

Two other deportees, ages 29 and 31, from the same flight already tested positive. The plane had carried 41 Guatemalans, including 10 children.

The topic of deportations has become even more fraught than usual in Guatemala and other countries in the region as governments close borders and some hesitate to accept even their own citizens, fearing they could be infected.

Upon arrival the migrants were isolated for a day at a Guatemalan air force installation. One person who arrived sick and tested positive for COVID-19 disease was put in isolation, but the rest had been released and asked to quarantine themselves in their homes without supervision.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday announced the suspension of deportation flights from the U.S. during Holy Week. It said Guatemala also asked the U.S. government that when the flights resume, each plane only carry 25 passengers, not the usual 100, and said they should be certified as showing no coronavirus symptoms.

On at least two earlier flights, six deportees arrived with severe coughs and high fevers, raising concerns, authorities said. Those people were isolated as were government personnel who had contact with them.

As part of measures to slow the virus' spread in Guatemala, authorities have prohibited travel between the country's departments, or states. So they also asked the U.S. government to only deport Guatemalans only from the department that includes the capital.

Guatemala has reported 74 positive cases nationwide and three deaths.

In Mexico, Gov. Miguel Ángel Riquelme of the northern border state of Coahuila, said Tuesday that in a meeting with Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero he made an “energetic complaint” about Mexican and Central American migrants returned or shut out from the United States who have accumulated in his state. He asked the federal government to move them quickly to their home countries or states, while recognizing that closed borders have made that more complicated.

The fear is that migrants turned back across the border by the U.S. government will carry the virus and infect border residents. The U.S. has reported more than 370,000 infections and more than 11,800 deaths, while Mexico lists more than 2,400 cases and at least 125 deaths.

Speaking at a news conference while wearing a protective mask, Riquelme said that “there isn't capacity” in his state to face the problem and complained that the concerns of governors in Mexico's northeast had gone unanswered while their migrant shelters were packed.

Mexico has been working for days to lower the number of migrants in the country, especially by deporting migrants from its detention centers where there have been protests over fears of the virus.

Sánchez Cordero said Monday that several Mexican air force planes had carried Central American migrants back home and that the government was encouraging more to return to their countries.


Associated Press writer María Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.