Haitians rushed to buy food, gas, soap and face masks Friday after the announcement of two imported cases of the coronavirus sparked worries that the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation could be overwhelmed by the illness.

President Jovenel Moise said Thursday that two patients had been quarantined after testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. One was a 31-year-old Haitian who had just returned from Paris and the other was a Belgian volunteering in a Port-au-Prince orphanage.

Moise said the country was closing all airports, schools, factories and seaports. The measure is designed to halt new cases of the virus, but health workers said it could prevent the arrival of important medical supplies and volunteer doctors and nurses if the virus starts to spread inside the densely population nation of roughly 11 million people.

According to the United Nations, some 35 per cent of Haitians lack basic drinking water services and two-thirds have limited or no sanitation services, making it extremely difficult for people to regularly wash their hands as recommended to deter the spread of the coronavirus.

The country just completed its first year free of cholera, a water-borne disease that was imported by U.N. peacekeepers and killed nearly 10,000 people over the last decade.

“We don’t have any basic service. Coronavirus will kill like cholera did,” said Marjorie Jean-Baptiste, a beauty-salon worker. “The country doesn’t have any resource to fight back epidemic.”

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