Venezuela says most-used border crossing from Colombia is now open
Adds statement from Venezuelan foreign ministry, recasts to note Venezuelan authorities say crossing is open
BOGOTA, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Venezuela on Friday said its most-used crossing along the border with Colombia was now open following a brief closure this morning for disinfection, after Colombian migration authorities earlier said it had been closed.
Colombian authorities had said they were informed by Venezuelan counterparts that the Simon Bolivar bridge connecting the cities of Cucuta and San Antonio would be closed due to the high number of recently arrived Venezuelans who are in quarantine to halt the spread of COVID-19 on the other side.
But later on Friday, Venezuela's foreign ministry said the bridge was briefly closed due to a disinfection operation to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but re-opened at 10 a.m. local time (1400 GMT).
Colombia is a top destination for Venezuelans fleeing the political, economic and social crisis in their country. Some 1.7 million Venezuelans reside in Colombia.
Since March, when Colombia declared a national lockdown to combat the new coronavirus, around 100,000 Venezuelans have returned home.
Another 40,000 are waiting to cross the border, according to Colombian migration authorities, amid weekly limits by Venezuelan authorities on the number of citizens allowed to return.
"We are concerned for the health of everyone along the border and as such we have decided to suspend transport of Venezuelan citizens to Norte de Santander (province)," Colombia's migration director Juan Francisco Espinosa said in a statement.
Colombian authorities had been bussing Venezuelans who wanted to return home from the interior of the country to Cucuta, but would stop to avoid border bottlenecks and possible health emergencies, Espinosa said.
"Together with mayors and governors we will begin to organize a new transfer schedule in response to the situation in our neighboring country," he added.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota, additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas Writing by Oliver Griffin and Luc Cohen Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Diane Craft)
((Oliver.Griffin@thomsonreuters.com; +57 304-583-8931))
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