BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia is the first country in Latin America able to do its own diagnostic tests for the fast-spreading coronavirus, a flu-like virus which has killed more than 400 people in China and spread to other countries, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
Colombia has no confirmed cases of the disease, but has tested 50 travelers for the virus over the last five days. The testing capabilities mean local authorities will no longer need to send samples from potentially infected people to the United States, the health ministry said in a statement.
“We are the first country in Latin America which can do local diagnostic tests for the new coronavirus, and if necessary, give support to other countries,” Health Minister Ivan Dario Gonzalez said in a statement.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the virus a global emergency, and experts said much is still unknown, including its mortality rate and transmission routes.
A Hong Kong man died of the virus on Tuesday, the second death outside mainland China.
The test can detect the virus in a maximum of 24 hours, health officials said, and within eight hours if the patient is in the capital Bogota.
Total infections in mainland China have risen to more than 20,400, and nearly 200 cases have been reported across roughly two dozen countries, Hong Kong and Macau.
Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio