HAVANA/PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Three migrants the United States deported two weeks ago to Haiti, on a flight that raised objections from human rights advocates, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus while in quarantine in the Caribbean country, a Haitian health ministry source told Reuters.
Several U.S. lawmakers had also opposed the deportation flight to Haiti given the risk of spreading the virus further in the poorest country in the Americas, which is especially vulnerable to an outbreak.
At the point of the flight, the Caribbean nation had just 25 confirmed cases compared to more than 380,000 in its northern neighbor. It now has 47 but that number could rise swiftly.
A major outbreak of the novel coronavirus could be devastating for Haiti, which has around 100 ventilators for 11 million residents and where the healthcare system was already collapsing.
Haiti’s water and sanitation system are also in a shambles. While the government has closed borders and declared a state of emergency, many Haitians have continued to go about their daily lives as usual given they live hand to mouth and cannot afford to stay home. Around two thirds live under the poverty line.
“These people who were in quarantine were tested and three …. came back positive,” the source said.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the information.
The Trump administration has pressured impoverished countries like Haiti and Guatemala to keep receiving deported migrants despite growing concerns returnees are bringing the virus with them.
Forty-six Guatemalan migrants on two deportation flights from the United States last week also tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Central American nation’s government.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and State Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the Haitian cases.
With limited resources, Haiti faces a recession this year and has also been grappling with political instability and gang violence.
Authorities have so far carried out only 508 tests, according to the health ministry, although it hopes to ramp up testing next month with the arrival of rapid tests.
The government this weekend extended the state of emergency for another month under which borders are closed, as are schools, universities and places of worship.
However it allowed textile industrial parks, which are one of its top sources of foreign currency revenue, to restart this Monday albeit only at 30 percent capacity.
Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Andre Paultre in Port-au-Prince; Editing by David Gregorio