It's coronavirus-free, but El Salvador is banning all foreign travellers

An airport worker wears a protective face mask at the El Salvador International Airport Saint Oscar Romero y Galdamez, on March 8, 2020.
An airport worker wears a protective face mask at the El Salvador International Airport Saint Oscar Romero y Galdamez, on March 8, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN JOSE (BLOOMBERG) - El Salvador is imposing some of the world's toughest controls to curb the spread of the new coronavirus before it has a single confirmed case of the disease.

Governments from China to the United States have been accused of reacting too slowly to prevent the deadly illness from spreading. El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele said he doesn't want to repeat their mistakes.

"How much would Italy give to be in our position and be able to declare a quarantine before having thousands of cases?" Mr Bukele said on Wednesday (March 11), in a national address.

"We are facing a pandemic with an incredible virility that has probably never been seen before."

The president said the measures involve a ban on all visitors to the country via all ports of entry who aren't residents or diplomats. El Salvadorans or residents who return to El Salvador will be quarantined for 30 days.

Schools are suspended for 21 days, though imports and exports will be allowed and people can still go to work. The decree will last for 21 days.

Mr Bukele, 38, said there is nevertheless a high probability that the virus will arrive in the country, if it has not already arrived undetected. The economic damage caused by the controls will be less than would be caused by mass illness among the population, he said.

The controls "may seem strange now, but in the coming days many other countries will be replicating our measures," he said.