Reports from Cuba: The world shuts down but Cuba remains open to tourism despite coronavirus

14yMedio reports from Havana via Translating Cuba:

The World Shuts Down But Cuba Remains Open To Tourism Despite Coronavirus

Cuban authorities are opting to keep the borders open and the arrival of tourists to the Island despite the advance of COVID-19. The official propaganda reiterates that the country is a safe destination and assures vacationers that “the necessary protocols to prevent spread are prepared.”

While a good part of the countries affected by the coronavirus are declaring states of alarm or emergency, closing their borders, and suspending flights to the most affected areas, the Cuban Ministry of Tourism confirmed this Friday that there is a strategy in the sector to contain the entry of the disease, but without limiting the arrival of tourists.

Among the measures most advised by international health organizations are avoiding travel, remaining at home, and reducing contacts with other people. However, several social media accounts of Cuban companies linked to tourism have intensified their publicity in recent days to attract tourists.

With the slogan “Cuba is a safe destination” and appealing to the unconfirmed information that high temperatures inhibit the spread of the disease, tour operators like Havanatur and Cubatur show sale packages for sun and sand, as a refuge to escape the rigors of the cold and the isolation in various countries experiencing a crisis in the spread of the disease.

The Cuban Ambassador to Italy, José Carlos Rodríguez, disseminated the promotion on his Twitter account that Cuba continued to have its “doors open” to the arrival of vacationers and that a “strict protocol for confronting” the disease guaranteed that the Island was a “safe” place at the time of the pandemic.

For his part, Francisco Durán, head of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health, specified that any traveler coming from a high risk country will be submitted to a check in the airport, and “if they visited that country and have any symptom, they will be taken to isolation for 14 days.”

Despite those official declarations, the four confirmed cases of coronavirus up to this point have passed without symptoms through the airports. Among them is a Bolivian woman living in Milan who arrived on the Island on February 24 and only went to the doctor on March 8 when her Cuban husband began to have a cough and a fever. At that time she had already gotten over the virus and had contact with dozens of people in Santa Clara.

The Minister of Public Health, José Ángel Portal Miranda, stated that there are 259 patients “admitted for epidemiologic observation” and of those 90 are foreign and 169 are Cuban. Since January 25 there have been 272 admitted and 15,793 people have been attended in primary care, he detailed.

This newspaper has collected testimony from numerous travelers from Milan and Madrid who have arrived in recent days on the Island and were only asked if they have cough and a fever, after which they were able to continue their trip to national tourist destinations like the keys, Trinidad, Viñales, and the historic quarter of Havana.

“I am not accepting clients,” explains Liudmila, who operates a tourist facility in  Viñales. “Those who have been arriving have mainly been Italians, Spaniards, and Canadians. People are happy because business was a little depressed but they are gambling with their lives.” In her three-bedroom house, the last tourists were from the Lombardy region. “Now we are afraid we are incubating the coronavirus.”

“Here we have our hearts in our mouths, dying of fear,” an employee of El Patriarca hotel in Varadero tells 14ymedio. “We have various European clients with symptoms but they don’t end up putting our place in quarantine because they don’t want to scare the tourist trade,” he explains by phone.

“They gave us a brief training on how to proceed with hygiene but the personnel is very scared of contracting it,” he adds. “The majority of our guests right now are Italians, some who bought last minute tickets to take refuge here because they don’t want to be stuck in their homes in their country.”

The musician Alexander Abreu, leader of the group Havana D’Primera, lamented the situation upon arriving at the Havana airport. “Taking out the bags one by one and massing together flights coming from areas that are in the thick of it,” described the composer, who had to wait a long time in a room “with more than 600 people recently arrived” in the country.

“This way we won’t be able to survive what’s happening in the world no matter how many vaccines or how much medicine we have,” denounced Abrea. “Why close the House of Music if on the ’main stage’ they’re having ’a party.’”

“We have workers who have in their homes elderly parents and grandparents and they are really afraid of becoming carriers who bring the disease from here to those elderly people,” complains another employee from the Hotel Deauville in Havana. “They have told us to wash our hands but we cannot use masks so as not to alarm the customers,” she explains.

“It reminds me of when I was in primary school and Fidel Castro used to say over and over that something had to be done at whatever price necessary,” expresses the employee. “This is not an enemy that one can see, this is not imperialism, this is a virus and it has no ideology, it doesn’t matter to it if we say that ’it shall not pass’ or ’don’t mess with us,’ it’s going to affect us just the same.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera