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People at Ventana al Mar park at the Condado area of San Juan, Puerto Rico, March 15, 2020. Image Credit: New York Times

San Juan: The US territory of Puerto Rico on Sunday ordered a 9pm to 5am curfew to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, the strongest measure yet taken on American soil.

It took effect immediately and lasts until March 30.

“Faced with the possibility of transmission and propagation of the virus, I have ordered the imposition of a curfew for all residents of Puerto Rico,” Governor Wanda Vazquez announced in a video message.

“We must take every precaution to ensure that we do not become potential carriers,” Vazquez said.

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The Caribbean territory, whose residents are US citizens, also will “close all businesses in Puerto Rico” from 6pm Sunday, also until the end of the month, she said.

That includes malls, movie theaters, concert venues, gyms, bars and other businesses that bring together large crowds on the island popular with tourists.

The exceptions would be businesses in the food supply chain, and in the medical care system, she explained, as well as drugstores, gas stations, banks and senior citizens’ group homes.

At night, only those who are providing or receiving medical care, or carrying out essential duties, will be allowed to be on Puerto Rico’s streets.

Anyone defying the curfew faces a six-month jail term and a fine of up to $5,000.

The island declared a state of emergency when its first cases were reported March 12.