Vendors are tested for coronavirus at San Benito and Lucas de Gálvez markets. Photo: Sipse

After 119 asymptomatic market venders were given coronavirus tests, 47 workers — 39.5% of them — tested positive.

Now Merida’s two largest mercados will be closed for 14 days starting Wednesday.

State and city health officials swept into the massive, and still-crowded San Benito and Lucas de Gálvez markets after learning of five vendors with COVID-19 died.

{ Previously: San Benito, Lucas de Gálvez closures ruled out }

Marketplaces are considered to be high-risk environments for flu. Indeed, the current pandemic was traced to a wet market in China.

Nervous health officials even suspended the once-weekly Slow Food market, which had been strict about sanitation and social-distancing protocols.

But San Benito and Lucas de Gálvez can be much more chaotic and thousands of people come and go every day.

After the markets reopen, all the tenants will have to implement stricter hygiene and prevention measures, the health officials said in a press release.

The state Secretary of Health notified each vendor who tested positive to self-isolate and not spread the virus any further.

A fear across Latin America

Four out of five merchants at a major fruit market in Peru have tested positive for coronavirus, prompting fears that Latin America’s traditional trading centers may have helped spread COVID-19 across the region.

From Mexico City to Rio de Janeiro, vendors struggle to enforce social distancing and sanitary measures at wholesale and retail markets, which are mainstays of local economies.

“Markets were probably the biggest vector of infection which is why Peru’s quarantine did not work as it should have,” said Eduardo Zegarra, the principal investigator for Grade, a development thinktank in Lima.

Markets still occupy an important place in Latin American culture and economies – even as retail giants such as Walmart expand into the region. But that has also tied them closely to the spread of the disease.

Colombia’s largest wholesale market, Corabastos, sits in the hardscrabble Kennedy neighborhood of the capital Bogotá – currently center of the country’s outbreak.

The city’s health minister, Alejandro Gómez, admitted that local government could have done better but also stressed the importance of food supplies. “We cannot allow Corabastos to become a risk to the health of Bogotá, but neither can we allow food shortages,” he said.

Jorge Colmenares, an opposition city councilman, tweeted: “Thanks to Bogota’s carelessness, the coronavirus has hit the food supply of millions of citizens.”

At Mexico City’s mammoth Central de Abasto, which receives merchandise from around the country and in turn supplies markets throughout the capital, at least 25 COVID-19 cases and two deaths have been reported, although local media suggested the true figure was much higher.

Manuel Cornejo Carrillo owns a laundry in the Mercado Coyoacán, where he says 60% of the stalls have closed and sales are down 90% in his business. Cornejo lamented that the few customers still coming to the market were still failing to keep their distance or wear masks.

After a brief lockdown, Mexico has already announced plans to re-open its economy, but while Cornejo was sympathetic with the urge to get back to work, he feared that the worst was still to come from the coronavirus.

“Economically, it’s time to restart. But on the health side, I’m worried – I don’t think we’ve hit bottom,” he said.

“I’ve lived through the H1N1 outbreak and earthquakes, but I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

Sources: Guardian, Sipse

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