By Elida Moreno

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – Fifty-nine migrants in Panamanian migration centers have tested positive for the coronavirus, a health official said, as thousands of migrants in the Central American nation wait to advance on their journey north.

More than 2,500 migrants became stranded in Panama in March when the border with neighboring Costa Rica was closed in an attempt to contain the rapidly spreading coronavirus, according to figures from Panamanian migration authorities.

Nearly 2,000 of those migrants are being held in migration centers in the Darien province, located on the edge of a remote swath of jungle that separates Panama and Colombia, according to migration officials.

Health authorities have worked hard to contain the coronavirus’ spread in the cramped shelters, Dr. Juan Rosales, regional health director for the Darien province, said in an interview.

“It is not easy to have 1,900 people in a small place,” he said. “The work has been hard.”

Medical teams have guided migrants through social distancing and the use of masks, Rosales added, noting that the personnel are working across linguistic and cultural barriers.

Twenty-four of the migrants who tested positive have recovered, Rosales said. The cases have been mild, and only those who were at high risk were transferred to local hospitals, he added.

All who were diagnosed with the virus, as well as those who came into contact with them, have been placed in isolation, he said.

A number of migrants in the centers are considered to be at high risk for the virus, including 78 pregnant women.

The majority of the migrants stranded in Panama are Haitians, Cubans and “extra-continental migrants” from Africa and Asia, said Santiago Paz, head of the International Organization for Migration’s mission in Panama. More than a quarter are children and adolescents under the age of 17, he added.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Editing by Leslie Adler)