Coronavirus: caution in Cuba before reopening its borders

For the past month, Cuba seems to have successfully contained the coronavirus epidemic, enough to encourage it to prepare for its reopening to tourism, its economic engine. But caution remains in order as new outbreaks appear in Havana.

“The country is preparing the whole strategy for the recovery stage after Covid-19, but we are not going to apply it until we are sure that there is precise control of the epidemic”, warned recently President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Cleaning teams have already started to disinfect and refurbish the country’s airports and hotels, with a view to their next reopening to the public.

If the borders are officially closed until the end of June, several airlines are banking on the fact that the measure will not be extended, by offering tickets as early as July.

But after a few weeks where daily cases hovered around a dozen, the announcement of an outbreak of more than 60 contagions linked to a Havana shopping center, a laboratory and a transport company had the effect of a cold shower.

As a precaution, Cuba has therefore not yet lifted any restriction measures: schools remain closed, public transport suspended and the use of compulsory masks in the streets.

“This problem is not resolved in Cuba, and even less in the world, and we must be very careful in relaxing the measures,” said Dr. Francisco Duran, director of the Epidemiology Department of the Ministry of Health.

Guinea pigs

The island of 11.2 million inhabitants has no reason to be ashamed of its record: on Tuesday, it accumulated 2,092 cases including 83 deaths, accounting for only 180 active cases.

By comparison, Panama, with 4 million inhabitants, recorded more than 13,000 cases including 336 deaths, which did not prevent it from partially reviving its economic activity this week.

Over the past 15 days, the contagion rate in Cuba has been 2.33 per 1,000,000 people, with no new cases in 11 of the 16 provinces.

The country maintains strict mandatory isolation measures, in disused gymnasiums or schools, for all contacts of positive cases.

And after closing its borders on March 24, it isolated tourists in state hotels. Of the 60,000 who were still there when the president announced this measure, about 4,000 remain.

The latter ultimately serve as guinea pigs for a new type of tourism, post-coronavirus.

“I arrived in Cuba in January to rest, when the coronavirus appeared. I was due to go back in April, “said Irina Jatkievich, a 50-year-old Russian woman who lives in the somewhat tired-looking Comodoro state hotel in Havana.

“I have been living in this hotel for two months”. But “the attention is very good,” she says.

“A bastion”

For Omar Milian, hotel manager, the period has the value of a test: Cuba “has a great need to continue to exploit tourism, and we must be pioneers by presenting an international protocol so that tourists see that Cuba remains a country sure”.

Among the measures implemented: tourists can no longer serve themselves directly at the buffet, the tables are spaced and the reception is set up to avoid contact between employees and customers.

The bar no longer has stools at the counter and patrons cannot go near the bartender when he is preparing cocktails.

A protocol is being developed for access to the pool and the beach.

“Our country will become a bastion, among the first in the world to emerge (from the crisis), with safer, more reliable tourism,” says Omar Milian.

The Italian Davide Cuttica, who arrived in Cuba in March, can already testify to these new conditions: “Every time we enter the hotel we have chlorine to wash our hands,” says the forty-something man who sips coffee in the hall.

But it is forbidden to go out or swim at the nearby beach.

Not all tourists were as delighted as Irina and Davide to find themselves trapped in state hotels, less welcoming and much more expensive than the “casas”, accommodation rented by the inhabitant.

Some have published videos on social networks to denounce their conditions and food, in this country hit by recurrent shortages.

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