Puerto Rico seeks to suspend all incoming flights to battle coronavirus spread

Tourists wait to get their picture taken in front of the Puerto Rican flag in Old San Juan. The U.S. territory has decreed a curfew and ordered all non-essential businesses to close.


By JIM WYSS | Miami Herald | Published: March 18, 2020

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Tribune News Service) — Puerto Rico is asking U.S. authorities to suspend all domestic and international flights for 14 days as it hopes to further lock down the island to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement Wednesday, Gov. Wanda Vazquez said she made the request to Federal Aviation Administrator Stephen Marshall.

In the letter, she also asked the FAA to close all airports where local authorities aren’t screening incoming passengers, limit the airstrips where charter planes can land and allow the island to limit all air traffic except for vital services and the military.

“Each of these requests is independent of each other,” Vazquez said. “We’re asking the FAA to allow one of them, or all of them, simultaneously.”

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 3.2 million, has five confirmed COVID-19 cases and has taken some of the most dramatic steps of any U.S. jurisdiction to control the virus.

On Sunday, Vazquez imposed a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and ordered all nonessential businesses to close through March 30. Visitors and residents are being told to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary. The island has also imposed a moratorium on cruise ships.

“Puerto Rico is an island. Just a few days ago, we didn’t have cases of coronavirus (and) COVID-19, and now, due to the arrival of tourists by boat and plane, we have five positive cases,” Vazquez said. “We don’t want more cases in Puerto Rico.”

The National Guard began screening incoming passengers at its principal international airport in San Juan on Tuesday evening.

Several U.S. cities and states have followed Puerto Rico’s lead, imposing curfews and shutting businesses, but it’s unclear if the FAA might allow the island to isolate itself from the mainland by suspending all flights.

With a weak health care system and aging population, Puerto Rico is seen as particularly vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus.

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