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Costa Rica overwhelmed by coronavirus testing as Panama records first death: What you need to know today

March 11, 2020

The Health Ministry recognized the number of suspected coronavirus cases exceeds the capacity of Costa Rica’s national reference lab, located at INCIENSA.

Tuesday afternoon, health authorities identified 165 people who are suspected of having coronavirus, bringing Costa Rica’s total confirmed COVID-19 tally to 13 confirmed cases and 179 suspected ones.

“Their samples are with INCIENSA, but it is a very high number of samples that exceeds the capacity of the laboratory,” said Health Minister Daniel Salas, according to Channel 7 TV News.

When operating at regular capacity, INCIENSA can complete a lab test for the novel coronavirus within 24 hours.

The Medical Manager of the Social Security System (Caja), Mario Ruiz Cubillo, told CRHoy that the public health system will offer free treatment to those presenting with COVID-19 symptoms. This applies if the patient is uninsured, has an irregular immigration record or is a foreign tourist.

The free care is being extended to those with a fever over 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit), respiratory difficulties, dry cough and some epidemiological link to a coronavirus case.

“We have decided that all people that present symptoms … will be attended to,” Ruiz said. “Afterward, we’ll see how we manage — if we’ll offer them national insurance, or how else we’d proceed — but the important thing is they will be attended to.”

Costa Rica’s confirmed coronavirus patients remain as follows:

  • A 49-year-old woman and her 49-year-old husband, who are both U.S. citizens. The husband remains asymptomatic.
  • A 54-year-old man, Costa Rican, who remains hospitalized in serious condition. Eight Costa Ricans ages 11-73, who had contact with the 54-year-old man, have also tested positive.
  • Another 54-year-old man, Costa Rican, whose epidemiological link to COVID-19 is unclear.
  • A 70-year-old U.S. woman, who is a Costa Rican resident but recently traveled through two North American airports.

The majority of the 165-person cluster of suspected cases identified Tuesday had some contact with the hospitalized 54-year-old Costa Rican man.

Panama records Central America’s first coronavirus death

Panama’s health minister on Tuesday confirmed eight cases of the new coronavirus in the country, including one death, the first virus-linked death in Central America.

“Of the eight patients we are reporting, one person is in intensive care, another unfortunately died,” Minister Rosario Turner said during a press conference in Panama City.

According to the ministry, a 64-year-old man who was already suffering from diabetes complications associated with bacterial pneumonia died of the COVID-19 virus on Sunday.

Turner said that the deceased man was the director of a school and that two of the other cases were affiliated with the same establishment.

The other seven people who tested positive ranged in age from 29 to 59 and all but one had recently traveled abroad.

The Panamanian government ordered public and private schools closed until April 7 in the potentially affected regions.

Costa Ricans work from home, events cancelled

The Costa Rican government has taken significant measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

  • Most mass gatherings, including concerts and festivals, will be suspended for at least two weeks and until further notice. Upcoming soccer matches will be played behind closed doors.
  • Public workers have been instructed to work from home, if possible. Private businesses should permit their employees to do the same.
  • Schools have been told to remain open, with some exceptions. Several public and private schools in the San José area have closed temporarily due to epidemiological links to COVID-19.
  • Costa Rica is not planning on closing its airports or its borders, nor is it restricting international travel, according to the Health Ministry.
  • The Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) has asked that tour operators, hotels and similar businesses allow greater flexibility for visitors to reschedule plans.

Worldwide cases near 120,000

Since the novel coronavirus first emerged in late December 2019, more than 119,711 cases have been recorded in 110 countries and territories, killing 4,351 people, according to an AFP tally compiled at around 0900 GMT on Wednesday based on official sources.

Mainland China, where all people arriving in Beijing from abroad will be placed in quarantine for two weeks, has 80,778 cases, with 3,158 deaths and 61,475 people cured.

In Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new coronavirus outbreak started, businesses involved in providing daily necessities can resume work and production immediately.

The worst affected countries after China are Italy (10,149 cases, 631 deaths), Iran (9,000 cases, 354 deaths), South Korea (7,755 cases, 60 deaths) and France (1,784 cases, 33 deaths).

Spain later reported that its number of infections had passed the 2,000 mark, with 47 deaths, thus overtaking France.

Bolivia, Brunei and Turkey announce their first cases, while Belgium and Indonesia announce their first deaths.

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