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MONTEVIDEO/BUENOS AIRES/ASUNCION - When the Copa America basketball tournament got underway last month in the midst of a pandemic, the hosts in Cali, Colombia took no chances.
Players and staff from participating men's national teams from around Latin America lived in a local "bubble" without contact with outsiders; all were tested regularly for COVID-19.
Missing from the contest was Brazil. The country has been so ravaged by coronavirus, including a new and highly contagious home-grown variant known as P1, that Colombia would not permit the Brazilians to land on their soil.
A double header of soccer World Cup qualifiers was also called off this month after Colombia's health minister said he would not allow a charter flight of Brazilian footballers to land in Colombia for the game.
Sports are just the beginning. Brazil's neighbors and trading partners are taking steps to limit contact with South America's largest country - and contemplating more draconian ones. The fear is that the progress many nations in the region have made against COVID-19 could be reversed by new waves of infection from Brazil, whose out-of-control pandemic is incubating virulent new strains that are worrying medical experts worldwide.
"It is a very alarming situation and a regional threat," said Leda Guzzi, an infectious disease expert and member of the Argentina Society of Infectious Diseases.
Even crisis-torn Venezuela has plenty to say. On Sunday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called Brazil "the world's worst threat in terms of the coronavirus" and chastised its leader, Jair Bolsonaro, for his "irresponsible attitude."
Bolsonaro, who contracted COVID-19 last year and wears a mask only sporadically, has repeatedly downplayed the crisis, even as his country has tallied more than 12 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and nearly 300,000 fatalities, trailing only the United States. He has opposed lockdowns and touted unproven treatments such as the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine.
Bolsonaro's office did not respond to a request for comment. The president repeatedly has defended his government's handling of the pandemic.
In landlocked Paraguay, where COVID-19 cases are hitting record highs, the government on March 16 discouraged people from non-essential travel, citing Brazil's "high number of infections and record deaths from COVID-19."
Chile's government in early March ordered that all visitors from Brazil be taken to state-run quarantine hotels to do a COVID-19 PCR test, and be kept there if they tested positive. Those rules were toughened last week to impose a mandatory 72-hour stay in a transit hotel even with a negative test.
In Bolivia's department of Beni, a state-like area that shares a long land border with Brazil, COVID-19 cases are exploding in the cities of Riberalta and Guayaramerín, according to Ernesto Moisés, Beni's Secretary of Human Development.