By Keren Torres
BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela, April 7 (Reuters) – A mayor in central Venezuela has begun placing red warning symbols on the homes of people with COVID-19 and also threatened to cut welfare handouts for those breaking quarantine, prompting the country’s chief prosecutor to open an investigation.
“We are protecting our people,” said Luis Duque, the mayor of Sucre municipality in Yaracuy state, pointing to a white paper sign on a home with a red circle and line drawn through.
“This indicates that there is a Covid case or a suspected Covid case, so the people are alert,” he added in a video posted this week to his Instagram account.
Telling local radio radical measures were needed as Venezuela tackled a second wave of the coronavirus, Duque said benefits including food handouts and cooking gas could be cut if people did not comply with quarantine orders.
The move by Duque, a member of President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party, brought accusations of discrimination from the country’s opposition and prompted Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab to open an investigation.
In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Saab called the measures “segregation” and said Duque acted unilaterally, adding that his office and the state ombudsman’s office had begun removing the signs.
The South American country is experiencing a resurgence of the virus after a first peak last August, with 1,526 new cases and 15 deaths reported on Tuesday.
Yaracuy reported 186 new cases on Tuesday, fourth among the 23 states and capital district, official data show.
Duque said his municipality would also fine anyone disobeying quarantine the equivalent of $9, several months’ worth of minimum wage salary in hyperinflationary Venezuela.
Neither Venezuela’s information ministry nor Duque responded to requests for comment from Reuters. He told local radio that if anyone considered the measures unconstitutional then they could challenge them in court. (Reporting by Keren Torres in Barquisimeto, Venezuela; Additional reporting and writing by Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Editing by Luc Cohen and Andrew Cawthorne)