Mexican border city tightens checks on US visitors coming from Brownsville

Commuters leave a customs checkpoint in El Paso, Texas on Friday, March 20, 2020. U.S. Shoppers continue to cross the border between that city and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to purchase basic goods. Commuters are fewer, however, following school closures in El Paso. President Donald Trump and Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the two governments will prohibit recreational and tourist travel starting Friday at midnight, similar to the restrictions put in place earlier this week along the U.S. and Canadian border. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio) (Cedar Attanasio, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

CIUDAD VICTORIA – Officials in a Mexican border city are tightening checks on travellers coming from Texas, saying they fear U.S. visitors may be helping feed a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Municipal and state officials in Matamoros, together with Mexico's National Guard began setting up checkpoints Saturday at the three border crossings to question U.S. citizens and residents coming from Brownsville, Texas. City official Jorge Mora Solaldine said only one person will be allowed per vehicle and people will have to prove they have essential business, such as work or medical care.

At least 180 people were turrned back at a single point on Saturday, according to city officials.

Mexico and the U.S. announced in March that they were closing the border to non-essential business, but enforcement has been spotty in some places and there were few if any checks on those coming into Matamoros. Commercial traffic, critical to the economy on both sides of the border, has continued on a large scale.

The municipality of Matamoros, with a population of roughly 500,000, has reported 323 confirmed infections of the new coronavirus and 29 deaths, while Cameron County on the other side of the border has recorded about 700 cases and 32 deaths among its roughly 420,000 people.

The U.S.-Mexico border is the most transited in the world, with many people normally crossing almost daily for work or school. Residents and officials on both sides have asserted that travellers from across the border were bringing the infection.

In Nogales, Sonora, some people temporarily blocked the crossing from Arizona with their vehicles in March, accusing the Mexican government of failing to screen people coming from the U.S.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and lead to death.