CUBA STANDARD — Responding to consecutive days of record-breaking numbers for new COVID-19 cases, Cuban health authorities imposed obligatory five-day quarantine on most arriving travelers.
International travelers and Cubans living abroad will be lodged at “designated hotels in each territory, with travelers assuming the expenses of travel and lodging”, the health ministry said in a statement Jan. 30.
The measure is effective Feb. 6.
Inbound state tour operator Havanatur published a list of designated quarantine hotels whose package prices range from US$242 to $1,300 for a week.
Business travelers, foreign students, diplomats and journalists will follow different protocols.
The measure brings tourism to a near-complete halt in the middle of high season. The Cuban step came one day after Canada, Cuba’s No. 1 tourism source market, imposed one-week quarantine in hotels on all returning travelers, and suspended most flights to and from the Caribbean.
At the same time, Cuba’s Civil Aeronautics Institute announced further cutbacks of flights from contagion hotspots in the region — United States, Mexico, Panama, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Bahamas. Effective Feb. 6, U.S. carriers American, JetBlue and Southwest, as well as all U.S. charters, are allowed only one weekly flight to Havana. Mexico’s Viva Aerobus is allowed one weekly flight to Cuba, Panama’s Copa Airlines is allowed two flights a week.
All flights to Nicaragua, Guyana, Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago are suspended.
“We reiterate that these measures are temporary,” said the IACC in a statement. “The will to maintain a certain level of flights prevails.”
In mid-January, authorities put Havana back into partial lockdown, with nightly curfews, shutdown of bars and movie theaters, and a full stop to intercity bus, train and ferry services. On Jan. 12, the alert level in Havana was raised to “limited local transmission”, which shut down schools on Jan. 14. On Jan. 17, the provinces of Matanzas, Santiago and Guantánamo followed Havana into the highest alert level.
The Cuban authorities divided their COVID-19 alert system into “local transmission”, and three “recovery stages”, with Phase 1 being the highest level of the recovery stages. Havana had been in Phase 3.
The return of lockdowns comes after new COVID-19 cases broke daily records on subsequent days; as of Jan. 30, the number of new cases continues to rise fast, and the number of daily hospitalizations has shot beyond 5,000.
In his daily health ministry press conferences in mid-January, Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Alfredo Durán attributed 80% of the new cases to international travelers, but he seemed to blame family travel rather than tourism.
“The most complex issue is connected to the families that receive travelers from abroad,” a summary of a Jan. 4 meeting by the Cuban presidency said.
In early January, authorities seemed to discard another shutdown of international flights and tourism; however, on Feb. 3, the Ignacio Agramonte international airport at Camagüey closed “as part of the new measures to face the complex epidemiological situation”, according to a local newspaper.
Meanwhile, the Tourism Ministry continues to advertise Cuba as a safe destination, and authorities in Havana in January specifically stated that tourism is allowed. José Martí International Airport remains open, although travelers may only be accompanied by one driver. Tourist excursions are banned, however, hotels are limited to 60% of capacity, and hotel pools to 30%.
The plan in Havana consists of 22 measures, including intensification of tracing and immediate quarantine, making sure all international arrivals follow protocol and get tested, and “implement vigilance protocols” in the hotels, rentals, and homes where arriving travelers stay, prohibiting larger gatherings in enclosed spaces, and a call to avoid visits of friends and family. On Feb. 4, local authorities introduced a curfew from 9 pm to 5 am.
The president urged scientists to “continue to advance the development of our vaccines, which is what will give us the security to overcome all this.”
Díaz-Canel was referring to the four vaccine candidates Cuba is developing. The most advanced one, called Soberana 02, will undergo massive clinical testing in Iran. Since Cuba does not have large numbers of COVID patients, clinical testing has to be done elsewhere. Cuba said last fall it also has agreed with Russia to produce that country’s Sputnik V vaccine in the island, but no announcement has been made recently. As other Latin American countries have begun massive vaccination campaigns, critical voices are rising within Cuba, asking why the government is not buying the U.S.-, European-, Russian- and Chinese-made vaccines used by Mexico and Chile.