AH1N1 virus alarm in Panama after migrant death

Influenza virus AH1N1 alarms Panama officials after death of Cuban migrant from respitory problem linked to virus

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A Cuban migrant uses her cellphone at a temporary shelter in the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua in Penas Blancas, Costa Rica on December 24, 2015

The death of a Cuban migrant from the AH1N1 influenza virus, while stranded on the country’s border with Costa Rica, alarmed officials in Panama, where hundreds of Cubans are stranded, an official said on Tuesday.

Panamanian health authorities said that the 53-year-old-man died late Monday after he was taken to a local hospital for severe respiratory problems linked to the influenza virus.

Officials said that two other migrants have suffered from similar symptoms, but they were in special supervision and are doing well.

Following the death of the Cuban migrant, the Panamanian authorities said that they plan to start a campaign to protect approximately 1,000 Cubans headed to the United States and are stuck at Panama’s border with Costa Rica.

The campaign has started with examination of sanitary conditions of hundreds of Cuban migrants who couldn’t continue their journey, after Costa Rica closed its borders on December 19. Health officers say they are prepared for any possible outbreak, stating that they have started vaccinations.

Thousands of Cubans are migrating through Central America in fear that warming US-Cuban relations could end their special immigration privileges which grants Cubans visa-free residence in the United States.

A humanitarian crisis spurred in Central America following the closure of its borders, and 8,000 other Cuban migrants are currently stuck in Costa Rica.

In November, the US called on Central American countries to find a solution to cope with the crisis. 

The top US charge d'affaires in Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis said that the US had no plans to change its immigration policy.

"The bottom line is that we don't have at this time plans to change any aspect of our migration policy," he told Reuters.

"We're encouraging the countries involved to seek solutions. We're very concerned about the human rights of the migrants," he added.

Central American countries have agreed on a deal which will allow thousands of Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica’s passage to the United States starting next month.

However, Nicaragua and Ecuador - both allies of Cuba unlike Costa Rica - block the passage of migrants without visas.

TRTWorld and agencies