US secretary of state spoke to Venezuela’s opposition leader, stressing the importance of a return to democracy.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced two weeks of what he referred to as “radical quarantine”, leaving Holy Week celebrations suspended.
“I announce that Holy Week this year will be again in radical quarantine. So we are going to have fourteen days, two weeks of radical quarantine,” he said on Sunday, referring to a period that will encompass the Christian holiday of Easter. About 88 percent of Venezuela’s 28.5 million people are Christian, the vast majority of whom are Catholic.
Maduro had previously announced that the Holy Week would be flexible this year, but took the stricter approach as COVID cases in the country rise and amid threats from the variant of the virus detected in Brazil.
Venezuela, which was already struggling with inadequate healthcare infrastructure as well as shortages of medicines and food before the pandemic, has reported a relatively light toll from the coronavirus, with 151,123 cases and 1,493 deaths confirmed to date.
Maduro has long blamed the country’s dire situation on US sanctions. Washington has maintained the sanctions do not affect the supply of medicines and food.
On Sunday, Maduro reported that the country has 8,872 active COVID-19 cases.
Frozen funds for vaccines
Venezuela has struggled with its vaccine rollout, which began in February using Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm jabs.
Caracas has also reserved between 1.4 million and 2.4 million AstraZeneca doses through the World Health Organization’s COVAX plan. However, last week, Maduro announced that the country would not use the AstraZeneca inoculant due to concerns the vaccine caused blood clots.
Several countries last week also paused their use of the vaccine, with many resuming after health authorities affirmed the doses did not pose a significant safety risk.
Venezuela’s opposition, which is recognised by the US as the legitimate government, has also sought permission to use funds frozen in US accounts to pay for coronavirus vaccines.
In 2018, Washington froze $342m in Venezuelan government funds in US accounts as part of sanctions against Maduro. Washington accuses Maduro of rigging his 2018 re-election.