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Puerto Rico declares curfew, closes non-essential businesses amid coronavirus fears


Note: The Miami Herald and McClatchy news sites have lifted the paywall on our websites for this developing story, providing critical information to readers. To support vital reporting such as this, please consider a digital subscription.

Puerto Rico is instating a curfew and requiring non-essential businesses to close as the U.S. territory tries to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

“If we don’t act now with determination and force, the consequences tomorrow will be even worse,” Gov. Wanda Vázquez said on Sunday during a national address.

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The island of 3.2 million people has five confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and several other cases are still awaiting testing.

Under Sunday’s decree, the island will be under a curfew from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. through March 30. The only exceptions are those who are going to or from work or in cases of emergency.

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In addition, most government offices and non-essential businesses, including theaters, malls, casinos, bars, gyms, and “any place that promotes the gathering of citizens in one place” will be closed through March 30.

The government had previously declared a state of emergency on March 12 and had already canceled school classes through the end of the month and barred cruise ships from docking.

Vázquez said she understood the new rules would be a blow to the island’s fragile economy but said they were necessary.

“All citizens should stay in their homes and avoid propagating this virus — it’s everyone’s responsibility,” she said. “God bless Puerto Rico.”

The new rules upend life on the island, where restaurants and bars catering to tourists and locals often do brisk business.

Morgan Lutz, a 25-year-old travel agent from Philadelphia, said the news of the curfew caught her by surprise.

While she’s well aware of the coronavirus, she said she hadn’t worried too much about spending the previous evening in the packed, open-air bar district of La Placita.

“We’ve just tried not to think about it while we’re here,” she said of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Carlos Rodríguez, 51, was on his way to the beach Sunday with his family and still digesting the governor’s drastic announcement. He said crowded streets and bars over the weekend suggested people weren’t taking the COVID-19 threat seriously.

“There’s people who don’t pay attention to the warnings,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think these measures need to be taken.”

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