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Nicaragua on Saturday held a boxing match in its capital city in front of a live audience, marking a significant departure from other countries that have canceled sporting events amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Former two-time world champion and promoter Rosendo "El Búfalo" Álvarez dismissed the threat of the virus before the event.

"Here we don't fear the coronavirus, and there is no quarantine. The three deaths (reported so far by the Ministry of Health) came from outside and nobody within the country has been contaminated," Álvarez said.

Despite his offer of free tickets, only about a tenth of the 8,000 seats in Managua’s Alexis Argüello gym appeared to be filled. Officials did not announce attendance figures.

Nicaragua's state-owned Canal 6 and ESPN Latin America broadcasted the fights.

Nicaragua's Rosendo Álvarez, seen here in 2001, downplayed concerns over the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Laura Rauch, File)

Alvarez said he signed up 16 local boxers for the card because they needed to work.

"Nicaragua is a poor country and the boxers have to eat. They can't stay shut up in their house," he said.


The government insisted Nicaragua has been barely touched by COVID-19. According to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University, the country has seen only 13 confirmed cases and three deaths.

Meanwhile, in neighboring or nearby countries, the regional Central American Integration System has reported roughly 13,000 cases and about 500 deaths.

The Nicaraguan baseball and soccer leagues have continued to play, and Saturday's local sports pages included stories on a triathlon and school wrestling tournaments. President Daniel Ortega recently ordered some 1.8 million students back to school and 170,000 state employees back to work following a 15-day vacation.

This month alone, the government's Tourism Institute promoted more than 80 mass events, including carnivals and parades. The government's approach has prompted expressions of concern from the Pan American Health Organization and alarmed some health experts inside the country.

"Popular celebrations, massive funerals, marches and similar activities increase the risk of multiple simultaneous outbreaks in the whole country," epidemiologist Álvaro Ramírez warned. "I still don't understand what the government is betting on."

Álvarez said his organization was taking protective measures at the bouts. Spectators were told to stay at least 6 1/2 feet from the ring, and medics checked temperatures when they entered. Face masks were mandatory.


Boxers also had to have "a rigorous medical checkup," he said. Still, he added that nobody tested the fighters for the coronavirus, because "none of them have symptoms nor have they gotten sick in training."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.