Baseball School Hit by Most Intense Venezuela Virus Outbreak

(Bloomberg) -- A baseball academy that recently produced prospects for U.S. teams including the Yankees and the White Sox is ground zero for the most intense outbreak of the coronavirus in Venezuela.

The disease took hold after two players from the Roberto Vahlis Academy on Margarita Island returned from the Dominican Republic last month, unaware that they were infected, according to the government.

Margarita, known for beach vacations and kite surfing, now accounts for about a quarter of Venezuela’s confirmed cases and the highest number of infections outside Caracas.

President Nicolas Maduro confirmed on Thursday 13 new infections nationwide with all occuring in Nueva Esparta, making it the nation’s hotspot with 93 case in all. Of the total cases, 83 are directly related to the baseball academy.

“A group of irresponsible people in Nueva Esparta, who are in prison, decided to live a crazy life, they believed they were immune, and not only they got infected, they spread it through the community. If the governor has some responsibility, the governor must go to jail too,” Maduro said on state television.

Two of the academy’s managers, a coach and a doctor are under arrest. Epidemiologist Carmen Hernandez, who works for the opposition-led state government, was also detained. They were all accused of refusing to provide information on the victims’ health status to the government.

Venezuela has now reported 311 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 10 deaths.

Outbreak, Crackdown

Hernadez’s lawyer, Argenis Rodriguez, said by phone that the accusation is false and that her client could face up to six years in prison despite never visiting the academy.

The family of a prospect recently signed by the the Philadelphia Phillies, are among those being monitored for the virus, Maduro said. Although Maduro didn’t name him, the Phillies last month signed outfielder Yhoswar Garcia from the academy.

Maduro didn’t say that either the player or his family are sick. The Phillies didn’t immediately reply to a written request for comment.

In 2018, academy players Edgar Navarro and Jesus Rondon signed as rookie pitchers for the White Sox’s Dominican Summer League, while Ismael Gomez signed as a rookie pitcher for the Gulf Coast League of the New York Yankees.

Venezuelans are well represented on U.S. major league teams, and it used to be common for them to play in their home country’s league during the off-season. Last year, Major League Baseball barred players from participating in the Venezuelan Winter League, due to sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump.

This week, the military banned local residents from leaving their homes after 4 p.m., threatening those who don’t comply with bio-terrorism charges.

The government is using the outbreak as a pretext to crack down on political opponents, said Alfredo Romero, director of the human rights NGO Penal Forum. The authorities have detained almost 70 people for political reasons, including doctors, lab workers and journalists, Romero said.

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