Guatemala's Health Minister claims migrants being deported back to the country from the United States have now led to an increase in coronavirus cases in the Central American country. Health Minister Hugo Monroy said on Tuesday that US deportations to Guatemala now make up a large majority of cases in the country.
Monroy said at a congressional hearing that at least half of the country's total tally of 200 coronavirus infections can be traced back to migrants who returned from the US, which he referred to as "the Wuhan of the Americas." He claimed that there was one flight in which "75 percent of the deportees tested positive for the virus."
US deporting COVID-19 positive migrants to Guatemala
"We must not stigmatize, but I have to speak clearly. The arrival of deportees who have tested positive has really increased the number of [coronavirus] cases," he said. "There are really flights where the deportees arrive ... with fever – and they get on the planes that way. We automatically evaluate them here and test them and many of them have come back positive."
According to the Associated Press, before the health minister's remarks, Guatemala had only reported four cases of returned migrants testing positive for COVID-19.
Guatemala asks US to stop deportations
Monroy's claims come as US deportation flights to Guatemala resumed following a week-long suspension prompted by three deportees testing positive for COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Guatemalan authorities have urged the US to halt deportations to the country over fears of spreading the deadly virus.
The Guatemalan government had asked the Donald Trump-led US government to refrain from sending more than 25 deportees per flight, to give them health examinations before departure, and to certify that they were not infected. However, the flights resumed service on Monday with 76 migrants onboard the first and 106 on the second. Guatemala's foreign ministry did not immediately clear why the US had not complied with its requirements.
However, local news reports suggest the pressure of sanctions was being used by the US to leverage Central American countries into resuming the return flights of deportees. The US has as many as 33,000 migrants in custody, out of which immigration officials have said 77 have tested positive for COVID-19.