Guatemala official: 44 deportees tested positive for virus

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Guatemalan citizens recently deported from the United States acknowledge reporters as they stand inside a temporary shelter where the deportees are waiting for their new coronavirus test results, in Guatemala City, Thursday, April 16, 2020. Guatemala's health minister said on Tuesday that deportees from the U.S. were driving up the country's COVID-19 caseload. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY – Forty-four Guatemalans deported on one flight from the United States this week have tested positive for COVID-19, a Guatemalan government official with knowledge of the situation said, amid rising rejection of deportees due to virus fears.

Later Thursday, Guatemala Foreign Affairs Minister Pedro Brolo told The Associated Press the government had again suspended deportation flights. He did not explain why, but said the move was temporary.

"We're working on the details," Brolo said, adding that he did not know when the flights would resume.

Presidential spokesman Carlos Sandoval said that “Guatemala is working with United States authorities to revalidate the health of Guatemalans returned in recent days." He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Guatemala's national laboratory would retest all those who were found positive and negative.

Asked for a response, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the CDC had representatives in Guatemala reviewing the COVID-19 tests and attempting to confirm the results. Once results are available, the immigration agency said it would determine whether it needed to work with the CDC to re-evaluate its medical procedures.

“The health and welfare of detainees in ICE custody is of the highest priority to the agency,” ICE said in a statement to the AP.

The flight with the infected deportees arrived in Guatemala’s capital Monday carrying 76 Guatemalans. Three deportees displaying coronavirus symptoms were immediately taken for testing. When one of those tests came back positive others who had been quarantined at the airport were tested and 43 more resulted positive, said the official with knowledge of the situation who had not been authorized to share the information publicly and requested anonymity.

There was confusion over where the flight originated.