Day 5 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Official figures, updated this Wednesday, give 57 cases positive for the coronavirus and almost 1,500 people quarantined in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 March 2020 – The floors are not made of wood, nor is it snowing outside, but in front of Chucho’s door there is a row of shoes. The retiree and his family have taken extreme measures to avoid contagion with the coronavirus and now, to enter his apartment – a few floors below ours – flip flops, boots, sandals and all kinds of footwear must be left in the hallway.

As the hours pass, we try to take stricter measures in our domestic space to prevent contagion, in a country where the official figures, updated this Wednesday, give 57 cases positive for the coronavirus and almost 1,500 people quarantined. While the long lines to buy food at many Cuban stores continue as usual, households opt for “zero visits” and “greater hygiene.”

Our neighborhood mobile-recharge card vendor now serves customers from behind a piece of acrylic to protect himself. “Some come because they want to buy a card from me and others because they are so lonely they could cry and they need to talk,” this merchant-turned-confessor and psychotherapist tells me with a complicit smile. continue reading

Communications become a vital point for those of us who choose to spend more and more hours locked up at home. “In recent days many users have asked if there are discounts to connect to the internet, but there’s nothing at all,” the self-employed worker tells me. Given the emergency and the forced quarantine, the dreams of lower prices for web browsing packages have been rekindled.

However, this Wednesday the official press repeated that those who ask for a reduction are just “mercenaries” and, so that there are no doubts, the official profile of Etecsa on Twitter shared the text. In other words, there are things that never change: viruses can arise, species become extinct, human beings can be born and die, but Cuba’s state telecommunications monopoly seems more focused on politics than on providing good service.

So, saving every megabyte, I have gone to the networks to find out about my friends I can’t see, thanks to their quarantine. Thus, I learned that one of them has composed a new song sparked by the confinement; someone else’s baby had a tooth come in; the grandmother of a dear friend sewed cloth masks for her entire neighborhood; and the brother of an old neighbor died of pneumonia and only one person went to the funeral home for the wake, for fear it was Covid-19.

From the bus terminal, a journalist colleague asked me desperately if I knew someone who rents a room on a long-term basis and cheaply. The young man was stranded in the capital after the cancellation of inter-provincial transport and now he is trying to find shelter while he waits. “I’m hoping the police stop me and deport me for not being legal* in Havana, to see if I can get to Camagüey that way,” he wrote.

Between these stories the days go by. The food that some had saved begins to dwindle, the exits to the street become obligatory but more and more sporadic and the vendors who, until a few days ago, shouted out their merchandise in our neighborhood have stopped — little by little — being heard. From Rancho Boyeros Avenue comes a rare silence since fewer vehicles pass.

Since the food crisis may worsen, today I planted some tomato, pepper and lettuce seeds. They will take time to bear their first fruits but at home we are preparing for a “long-winded” crisis, because the coronavirus has come to besiege us at a time when the national coffers were already empty and local enterprise is stagnated by excessive controls.

I cut the remaining piece of pumpkin to add to the last red beans I was able to buy before the supply dwindled in our neighborhood markets. I also have some sweet potatoes, which the new dog that we picked up on Friday loves when I boil them, but meanwhile my cat looks at me as if I was putting a shoe on her plate, just like those outside Chucho’s door.

In addition to the hardships, in our family we are all well: another day without cough or fever, and that is enough.

*Translator’s note: Cubans from other provinces are not allowed to live in Havana without a permit.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In Cuba Lines and Travel are Regulated, Schools and Gyms are Closed, Tourists and Nationals Returning to Cuba are Quarantined

Lines, like this one from last week to buy eggs, will not be allowed and people must remain three feet apart. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 March 2020 — The Cuban Government has announced a series of measures through which it intends to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which already affects 40 people, with more than a thousand in quarantine in hospitals. On Tuesday more measures will be detailed, but these are the main standards contained in the Prevention and Control Plan approved by the authorities.

PURCHASES

Lines will be controlled, keeping the agreed distance of at least one yard between people. Businesses must strive for separation and disorder must be avoided. Food and home delivery services are encouraged. The authorities have pledged to intensify food production and raw materials that are now not going to be used for other purposes will be frozen and destined for circulation to retail merchants. However, it is not explained what measures the Government is going to take to increase the supply of products.

CLASSES

The school year is suspended for three weeks (until April 20 in principle) and a staggered return to the classroom will be organized whenever that becomes possible. From March 30 teaching activities will be broadcast on television. Teachers must continue preparing classwork for the time of return and those engaged in master’s and doctorates will advance their research. Postgraduate and undergraduate activities are also suspended and the non-contact rule is applied. continue reading

Cuban students boarding at schools will return home and leave the residences open for foreign students.

Daycare centers will continue to function for those who choose to do so, although epidemiological surveillance standards will apply. New sign ups and adjustment periods will be postponed.

LEISURE

Entertainment venues that are closed include discotheques, swimming pools and gyms, both private and state, along with sports facilities.

Excursions of all kinds are suspended: historical, cultural and natural, and recreational activities in hotels are limited, which also applies to the non-state sector.

In hotels there will be strict surveillance of workers and tourists; the latter will not be able to rent cars. Leisure activities in these places will be limited, such as bars and restaurants where, as a minimum, the safety distance between customers must be kept. In case of non-compliance, the facility will be closed.

TRAVEL

Travelers arriving in Cuba should be immediately informed of the situation, they will be taken to isolation centers in buses selected and controlled by the Police. The ships, premises and luggage will be disinfected upon arrival.

Family will not be allowed to greet travelers and passengers, upon return, can only carry one suitcase and one piece of hand luggage to lighten crowds at the terminal and isolation centers.

All Cubans are “regulated” — that is, forbidden to travel. Travel will be allowed only for humanitarian reasons or other major reasons. It is also not possible to circulate within the country, with all state and private interprovincial transportation suspended, and urban transport will be reorganized, but the form is still being studied.

Luggage should be reduced to a suitcase and a hand bag to avoid crowding. (14ymedio)

MEDICAL CONSULTATIONS

External consultations, where possible, will be rescheduled and the clinics in the communities will be interconnected. All non-urgent surgical interventions are suspended and those linked to cancer, transplants and emergencies that compromise the patient’s life are maintained.

Certificates for obtaining medicines and medical diets are extended for six months.

QUARANTINE AND EPIDEMIOLOGICAL SURVEILLANCE

Cubans must complete a period of isolation of 14 days in authorized centers upon arrival on the island. If their return had already taken place before this Monday, they will remain in home isolation and must inform the authorities to continue their evolution and control, as well as that of their families.

Tourists who are still in Cuba are in quarantine and cannot leave their hotels. Those who were in a rental house will go to the tourist centers. It is not possible to circulate through isolated areas: one may not enter, exit, nor transit through them.

Police control will be reinforced in the streets and other centers defined by the authorities. Mass organizations* and the local government will also coordinate visits to monitor those who are isolated at home under medical surveillance, which will be reinforced.

Those with symptoms of coronavirus should go to designated centers or remain at home with health supervision.

GROUP RESIDENCES

Children without families will remain in the homes of their usual residence. The elderly in state centers, as well as those who live alone and homeless people will receive special attention.

LABOR SITUATION AND TAXES

Any worker can be temporarily relocated. Women with children in primary or special education will receive 100% of their salary the first month and 60% from the second month.

Formal and face-to-face procedures at tax offices are postponed, as are tax obligations at bank branches, although they can be carried out with Transfermóvil or other electronic payment systems.

Monthly taxes on self-employment activities where the activity levels are affected are not temporarily suspended, but reductions will be applied.

*Translator’s note: “Mass organization” is a term applied to government-run groups such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Woman, the local Communist Party organizations, student groups and others.

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Cuba Forbids Citizens From Traveling Abroad and Inside the Country

Cubans who live in Cuba are forbidden from traveling abroad except for humanitarian reasons. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, March 23, 2020 — Cubans will not be able to leave the country without authorization nor move about within the country between the provinces, as a measure to stop the spread of COVID-19, Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, announced this Monday.

The measures “will be of strict compliance” indicated Marrero on a state television program on which the new official measures to confront the epidemic were announced.

Cuba, which until now has recorded 40 cases of coronavirus and more than a thousand people in preventative hospital isolation, will partially close its borders starting tomorrow, Tuesday, and will only allow current residents of the country, both Cubans and foreigners, to enter. continue reading

Authorities have asked that the necessary “social distancing” be kept in mind, although in a country where every day one has to wait in long lines to buy basic products or to travel anywhere, it is difficult to carry out this measure.

Marrero said that in Cuba there are currently 32,574 tourists and 10,299 Cubans who live abroad. In addition he stressed that Cubans who do not live on the island will not be able to enter the country starting this Tuesday.

“From this moment on we are regulating the exit of all our compatriots from national territory,” said Marrero.

The prime minister made clear that those Cubans who live permanently abroad will not be able to return to the country. Cubans who live in Cuba are also prohibited from traveling abroad except for humanitarian reasons.

Marrero added that Cubans who live on the island will only be able to return with one piece of hand luggage and one suitcase. “We cannot continue allowing family members to wait at the airport,” said the prime minister.

The Government also announced that recent arrivals will be isolated in quarantine centers. The transfer will be made by the Ministry of Transport and the National Police.

The prime minister announced that 22,000 Cubans travel every day from one province to another and suspended interprovincial transport.

“We have asked the ministry of transport for this measure to be applied,” he added.

As well as flights, land and train trips are also prohibited, including in the private sector.

Marrero announced that public transportation will be limited and said that two million people get around every day in the very old public transportation system.

“Those movements are now a risk for the people themselves and for others,” he said.

The Government announced that tourists will be strictly forbidden from leaving their hotels. All tourist excursions are suspended.

“There are no tourists in the street starting tomorrow,” he said. The measure also takes effect in private lodging houses. The State announced the suspension of car rentals.

Tourists in Viñales, Baracoa, and Trinidad who are in private houses will be transferred to state facilities near the airports.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Government Begins to Adopt Measures Against Economic Crisis: Trade

A private fruit and vegetable seller with a makeshift cart in Havana.

14ymedio biggerElías Amor Bravo, Economist, 24 March 2020 — Regarding the measures adopted by the regime in Cuba, the state newspaper Granma dedicates space to those published by the Ministry of Internal Trade to prevent and confront COVID19. There is everything, but if you are looking for a headline, it is clear: Cubans are going to have a very bad time.

It is commendable that the regime has decided that hygiene and personal protection in services that handle food is the priority for attention, but this, being important, in Cuba has a second derivative, which is who cares previously about producing food and bringing it to stores and establishments, so long as it is not in short supply and sufficient for the duration of the pandemic and afterwards. And I think this is where the regime’s measures are not sensible.

The health crisis is going to bring about a paralysis of production. This should be the main challenge for the economic authorities. For this reason, these measures of the Ministry of Commerce are aimed only at regulating the activities of the sale of merchandise, food services and hotel accommodations, as well as personal and technical services, during the period of struggle against COVID 19. continue reading

But they do not address the technical-productive considerations, and in the face of an alarm such as the one we are now facing, and with a centrally planned and state-based economy, it makes little sense to approve trade-related measures of arguable impact, such as those announced by Granma, without resolving first question of production.

If the regime wants to face the serious situation it has ahead, must first of all address the ministries related to production so that they will be ableto generate goods and services in large quantities, and also quickly and urgently, if they don’t want the pandemic to end in hardship.

I believe that this matter is important enough to warrant more than just a general consideration, such as “ensuring, in accordance with the availability of essential products, the re-provisioning of the network.” And: “Avoid the concentration of goods in one place, in order to reduce crowds and the movement of goods.”

Unfortunately, Cubans know from their own experience that this replenishment of stocks sometimes takes time to arrive and, in the worst case, it never arrives. The actions to be carried out in this production and logistics area need to be more clearly defined, without attacking the rights of those who work, to provide a solution to meeting the needs of the population.

Granma echoes Cuban President Díaz-Canel’s statements on this point, stating that “a stock-taking of supplies will be made, taking into account what can be use can be made of the supplies dedicated to the activities that will now be stopped.” Granma suggested “regulating sales, regulating lines, avoiding disorders and encouraging meals and home delivery services.”

And it continues, “the productive and service activities that will be maintained and those that are not must be defined immediately; as well as the rapid importation of certain products. At the same time, food production will be intensified and the use of inputs will be frozen in the processes that, due to this situation, will be paralyzed and will be destined for retail merchant circulation.*”

In other words, all of these statements from Díaz-Canel confirm that the economic authorities are still at a very early stage, and certainly late, in addressing the problems of the economy that are going to occur, so one must hope that something could happen. The statist bureaucracy has a hard time getting going.

Of the measures related to trade, some propose that “priority be given to the commercialization of agricultural products through the retail network of state markets, supply and demand, kiosks and carts. Avoid the use trade fairs, with the aim of minimizing the risks due to the concentration of people.”

In this sense, I consider it positive that the regime has decided to maintain all the commercial forms of agricultural products, including the vendors who sell from rolling carts, the carretilleros. Until they are immobilized, if the advance of the pandemic requires it, these sellers will solve many feeding problems, especially for older people with mobility difficulties. It would be good if the regime lowered the repression against the carretilleros and allowed them greater freedom in acquiring provisions to attend to their duties.

Honestly, with these two general measures alone, little can be resolved in relation to supplies. And I am concerned with the measure of “creating conditions in all merchandise sales units so that access to the public is staggered (in correspondence with the unit’s capacity)” and that of “reducing the participation of competitors (self-employed worker-vendors) to 50%, in centers, commercial areas and high concentration services, alternating their days of participation in the week.”

These are measures that seek partial confinement and reduce exchanges and provoke higher average purchases than usual, which can end up creating supply problems, lines, rationing and angry protests by citizens if the products do not appear.

As far as the measures concerning state restaurants, road units and workers’ canteens are concerned, I honestly think they are wrong. Specifically, “the opening of these establishments is allowed, applying only methods of rearranging the tables, placing them with a separation of two meters (limiting capacities to 50%) and the recommendation to avoid crowds.”

If the pandemic progresses, this restored activity will most likely decline completely, basically due to the fears of the population, and sales from home will increase, if there is something to sell, because it should not be forgotten that the problem remains the same: that the goods and services are obtained through the production system.

They have only given a certain priority to the family care system, “with the delivery of lunch and dinner, either at home, or picked up by a relative of the beneficiary, or a representative authorized by the social worker.” However, it is known that all the “freebies” of the regime have experienced a notable decline in recent years, and nothing suggests that this has changed with respect to these meals.

It should be noted that the measures have been more forceful with hotel activity (including recreation, tourism and leisure), perhaps taking into account that tourism forecasts will clearly go down in the short term.

In this sense, “self-employment activities for tourism and recreation purposes have been suspended for the rental of homes, rooms and spaces, to people from abroad, foreigners or Cubans.” Technicians or temporary resident foreigners living in homes that provide these services are excluded from this suspension.

Regarding bars and cafes, state accommodation has been suspended in the interior trade system for tourism and recreation purposes for people from abroad, foreigners or Cubans.

Likewise, activities that generate concentration of people have been suspended, such as popular camping, and all those that take place in theme parks, leisure clubs, wedding palaces, dance floors, workers’ social circles, cinemas, theaters, cabarets, sporting events and others. However, food service and merchandise sales are maintained in compliance with the indications established for these activities.

They have also planned to increase home services for the repair and maintenance of minor equipment and fixtures.

*Translator’s note: Official government speak…

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 4 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

As soon as I arrived at the Youth Labor Army (EJT) market near my house this morning, I realized that this restructuring of the lines is going to be a very complex task. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 March 2020 — Last night I dreamed of suitcases. I lost my belongings which fell into a deep dark hole. My nightmare seems to have been motivated by the phone conversation I had with a friend shortly before going to bed and a couple of hours after the new measures to confront the Covid-19 in Cuba were officially announced.

“This is indeed a tragedy,” said my troubled friend who is about to return from Panama. In the well-supplied Colon Free Zone of that country, the traveler bought all kinds of products: clothing, soaps, disinfectant gel, vitamins, nutritional supplements and dehydrated food, in the face of the supply crisis facing the Island.

But yesterday, along with the suspension of classes, the closure of some leisure spaces and the cancellation of inter-provincial trips within the island, the Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero, announced that travelers coming in Cuba will only be allowed one piece of hand luggage and another in the hold of the plane, one of those suitcases that on most airlines can only contain 23 kilograms (50 pounds). continue reading

Now, my friend, and thousands of Cuban travelers who are out of the country and expect to return in the coming weeks, are facing the harsh reality that much of what they were going to bring home can no longer enter the Island. It is not a small thing because, in a country of shortages, travelers have become an essential support for many families.

So I spent part of the morning with the uneasiness that an unfathomable hole had eaten my belongings. A cold shower when I got up, a sip of bitter coffee and the view of a city that was barely moving before seven in the morning helped me to chase away those night ghosts but brought me back to the reality of a country in quarantine.

As of today there are no classes in schools, a closure that families have been demanding for days. Transportation between one province and another has been canceled, restaurants and bars will only remain open if they respect a three-foot distance between customers, non-urgent surgical procedures have been postponed and tourists are in quarantine and cannot leave their hotels, among other measures.

Now, the lines to buy food must also respect certain rules or, at least, that is what the official media say while updating the statistics to 48 people tested positive and 1,229 people in quarantine. As soon as I arrived at the Youth Labor Army (EJT) market near my house this morning, I realized that this restructuring of the lines is going to be a very complex task, perhaps one of the most difficult we must carry out, because it includes going against the instincts unleashed by scarcity.

The line, one of the “basic cells” of social organization on this Island, is also an annoying and necessary companion of every day life. We have all lined up, we have even sneaked past those who wait with the discipline expected, and we have rotated so as not to miss our turn. On other occasions we have paid a colero – someone who stands in line for others – and not a few times we have ended up empty-handed after long hours in one of these overwhelming lines.

I remember when I was a little girl the night I slept in line to be able to buy toys, and I remember getting bored as a teenager while I was waiting to buy some newborn chicks that the government was selling for people to raise for food during the Special Period. When I gave birth, I had to line up to get a bed in a hospital ward because everything was full, and I remember the day a family member died, when the line to order flowers went around the corner. In short, my life has been a long and constant line.

But in the current circumstances, our daily lining up needs to be rethought and we must leave three feet between ourselves and others. (14ymedio)

But in the current circumstances, our daily lining up needs to be rethought and we must leave three feet between ourselves and others, and not because that attitude is going to guarantee that we can buy a product, but because our lives depend on it. It’s tough.

When I returned from the market – they barely had plantains, tomatoes, carrots, and eggplant – the 14-story concrete block where I live was enjoying a hubbub unusual for this time of day. Our vertical tenement enjoys hours of relative calm when the children and youth are in school, but as of Tuesday the schools have closed.

“I had to go out and buy food because my son already ate all the bread,” a neighbor on the ninth floor tells me. Although the schools no longer provide snacks for students and in most of them there isn’t even lunch for those who don’t stay, as long as they are in school their families spend a little less to satisfy the enormous appetites of children of that age.

Now, in addition to the challenge of trying to keep their children at home, parents will have to deal with an overload in the consumption of cookies, breads, sausages, rice, beans and other products frequently found on Cuban tables. “If the coronavirus doesn’t kill me, my children will kill me, they are like catfish, they eat everything,” exaggerates a neighbor, the father of twins.

I climbed the stairs. One of the two elevators was stuck on some floor and I didn’t want to call Reinaldo. After he was expelled from his job as an official journalist, because he believed he could do journalism without a gag, he worked several years as an elevator technician and since then he has been the emergency mechanic for our building. But in these times of coronavirus, I prefer the solitude of the stairs to being locked up with several people in a metal box.

Before arriving at my apartment, I ran into a teenager who told me that this afternoon he is going to participate in a protest with the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet (Lower Internet Prices) to demand cheaper web browsing plans from the state telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa. Hopefully we can do it, but if the complaints grow on social networks officialdom may decide to do just the opposite: close access, using as an excuse the “state of emergency” and the need to “stop the lies against the Revolution.” Nothing would surprise me in that direction.

Many of the decisions that were announced this Monday were the result of pressure from citizens on social networks. In the event that Covid-19 advances in the country and the number of infections spikes and the capacities of the health system collapse, as has happened in parts of Italy and Madrid, government censorship could be primed against the independent press and the most active citizens on Twitter and Facebook.

I reached the 14th floor. Shortly after crossing the threshold of my apartment, someone knocked on the door. A young medical student with a mask asked how I felt. “I can’t complain,” I said, “the truth is, I can’t even complain,” I amended.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In the Face of the Authorities’ Inaction, Cubans Mobilize Themselves Against Coronavirus

“Closed.” Many private restaurants have closed their doors in face of the arrival of coronavirus in Cuba. (Tripadvisor)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, March 20, 2020* — In front of the television screen, Cubans watch the days pass by without authorities ordering the closing of the borders, the suspension of classes, or more strict measures of quarantine. While life seems to continue at its normal rhythm on the Island, many citizens and private businesses are beginning to take measures themselves in face of the inaction of the Government.

According to the official toll, 16 people*, including a deceased Italian tourist, have tested positive for COVID-19, and authorities continue to opt for a series of preventative measures without closing the borders, as various countries have done. The calls for calm continue in official media, which blame social media for generating an unnecessary “alarmism.”

Faced with the apparent normality in the discourse transmitted by television and radio, social media has turned into a hotbed of complaints and reports. In a country where the majority of the population distrusts official statistics, which for decades have been systematically massaged, many place more trust in the information about alleged contagions that arrive from various points of the Island. continue reading

Worry is spreading and various private businesses have locked up until the crisis lessens. “We are not offering services, we are sorry for the inconvenience,” read a sign in a centrally-located private restaurant in Old Havana this Thursday. The famous restaurant La Guarida also preventatively closed, but state-owned cafes and restaurants remain open to the public.

“We are not going in the direction of closing and they don’t allow us to use face masks,” an employee of Plaza de Carlos III who sells pizzas and sandwiches on the ground floor of that crowded market tells this newspaper. “They have told us that we must report it if we don’t feel well, but there is a lot of fear among the employees.”

Among the workers they have bought bleach, some soap, and prepared liquid in a bottle to keep their hands clean. “We take turns going to the bathroom and washing well,” explains the employee. “My sister works at La Covadonga hospital and is in the same situation, whatever they have to protect themselves, they have to bring themselves.”

For their part, medical students have been organized to carry out investigations house by house. “Here one came asking how many people live here and if anyone had had a fever or sore throat,” a resident in a multifamily building in Nuevo Vedado told 14ymedio. “We answered him through the door, because we don’t want to risk opening and getting infected.”

These students must bring their own protection equipment. One video that has gone viral on social media shows a strict professor of medicine demanding a student remove a face mask during an “orientation” meeting. In the video, made on a mobile phone, various young people can be heard protesting: “Don’t take it off, don’t listen to him.”

Some of the few face masks seen on the streets are sold on the black market, but Cuban “mules” — those who travel to other countries and bring back goods — have received a hard blow with the crisis. Some of their favorite destinations, Panama, the United States, and the Dominican Republic, have closed their borders or restricted flights. The constant flow of merchandise that was arriving with these small dealers for the informal market has been drastically reduced and it is beginning to be noticed.

“The vitamins, masks, nutritional products, and all the hygiene products that I brought in February really flew like crazy,” a Cuban from Villa Clara who traveled to the Panamanian area of Colon last month to make purchases tells this newspaper. “Just in time because it seems I won’t be able to return for several weeks.”

Those who have contact with friends and family in Italy and Spain seem to be the ones who best understand the danger. The musician Luis Barbería, who lived for a time in Madrid, shared a photo of an enormous line this Thursday on the corner of Villuendas park in Cienfuegos: “The entire world is in quarantine and Cubans are like this. We believe ourselves amazing and that we can do everything, just by being Cuban. Tell me?”

But the lines are not the only dangerous scenario. A recent study details how long the virus can live on different surfaces and it can remain for four hours on copper, which is present in many Cuban coins. In a “cash society” where the majority of customers do not have a credit card to make purchases, metal money is essential.

In the state-owned stores, which until recently only used convertible pesos but now also accept national pesos, coins of 5, 10, and 25 centavos are often used to pay and give change. Until now, no warning in these places counsels maximizing precautions with metallic money and no cashier wears a mask.

This Thursday on an urban bus the driver was wearing a piece of a condom on the thumb with which he counts bills but the coins were falling directly into his hand. Some passengers were getting onto the bus with an ice cream, others warmly conversing but without maintaining distance between their bodies, a pipe dream on a traditionally packed public transit.

The travelers, rather than worried, seemed imbued with a strange “mysticism of immunity” that the official media has contributed to propagating. A widely shared caricature shows a woman dressed as a nurse hitting the virus with a bat to send it far away. There are those who still believe that the disease, like a feared and capricious hurricane, will change its route and go far away from the Island. But they are fewer and fewer.

*Translator’s note: This translation is being posted 4 days after the article was originally written. As of the date of this translation, 23 March, the confirmed number is 40.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Unexplained Absence of Raul Castro

The last time Raúl Castro was seen at an official event was in late February. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 March 2020 –Although no one from the official media has explained the reasons why General Raúl Castro fails to fulfill his obligation to place himself at the forefront of the situation generated by the presence of the coronavirus on the Island, only two possible responses can be ventured: he cannot or he does not want to .

If he cannot, it could be for two other reasons: either he is incapacitated (physically or mentally) or the task he is engaged in is so urgent that he cannot now be distracted by the issue of the pandemic.

If the issue is that he does not want to, it could be because he is not intimately convinced of what the President of the Republic and the Council of Ministers are doing, or because he is having the generosity to give prominence to his replacement. continue reading

The Constitution approved a year ago establishes in Article 5 the status of the Communist Party as the “superior leading political force of society and the State.” In compliance with this precept, considered fundamental and inviolable, the organization’s first secretary — i.e. Raul Castro — would have to be leading the policy to address this epidemiological storm that attracts the attention of all the ministries and the concern of all citizens.

The understandable lack of consensus to approving the measures put into practice by the Government, especially regarding the closure of borders and the suspension of school and work activities, requires solid leadership, not only capable of making good decisions, but to ensure that they are accepted by the population.

In a crisis situation, or on the threshold of such a situation, citizens’ mistrust of the measures taken by the authorities is a risk factor with unforeseeable consequences. The absence of the person with the highest political authority in the country fuels that mistrust.

If the membership of the Communist Party came to believe that something was cooking behind Raúl Castro’s back, civil disobedience could spill beyond the limits where the opponents, or simply the non-conformists, have the successful habit of protest.

The former tendency for people believe that something “is happening because Fidel does not know about it” is transferred today to Raúl Castro, especially among the 20% of the Cuban population that is elderly and at the highest risk of dying, which is also the portion of the population with the greatest inclination to support the process.

Is Raúl Castro unable or does he not want to take the lead in this crucial “battle”?

If he can not, someone is obliged to explain it as soon as possible and not only to the militants but to the citizens, who by virtue of the aforementioned Article 5 are in a situation of legal subordination to the Communist Party.

If he does not want to, then it is up to him to explain why, with total clarity.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 3 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Medical students go door to door asking if someone is feeling ill or has returned from a trip. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 March 2020 — Mondays are always complicated. The neighborhood agricultural market, the epicenter of our commercial life, is closed; the building’s elevator is more congested than usual; and the water supply is less due to the “excesses” of cleaning and washing on the weekend. And now, to all this, we must also add the coronavirus.

The alarm has even reached those who until last week dismissed the severity of Covid-19. The same friend who called me on Thursday to tell me that this was a typical case of “collective hysteria” has called again this morning after the announcement by the Ministry of Public Health that there are officially 40 confirmed cases in Cuba and more than 1,000 hospitalized.

“It seems that this is serious,” he tells me from the other end of the phone line and takes the opportunity to ask if there was any chicken for sale in a store near our house. “Nothing at all,” is the categorical response. What, until a few days ago, was a scarce product, today has become extraordinary and tomorrow will be just a memory. continue reading

So it’s time to invent. I put the potatoes I managed to buy this Sunday in a saucepan, along with a piece of pumpkin, sweet potato, banana and the remains of yesterday’s food, to improvise a stew. “There’s no corn,” Reinaldo reminded me, but now is not a time to follow recipes to the letter. We can feel lucky that we didn’t have to wait in a line long to fill our plates today.

At the Hidalgo Street bakery, about twenty customers were waiting to buy bread this Monday. (14ymedio)

In the morning, I went out with my new mask to walk my dog ​​Tinta. At the bakery, about twenty customers waited to buy bread. Most of them were elderly, who are not only the most vulnerable, but also the most uninformed because they have less access to new technologies. Without foreign media, social networks or instant messaging, they depend almost entirely on the official newscast.

“I survived the October [Missile] Crisis and the Special Period. What fear can I have now?” boasted a man with a faded military cap over his abundant gray hair. “I even got sick from polyneuropathy* in the 90’s,” emulated another person in line who was holding her little grandson by the hand, without any face mask. “Cubans have special antibodies,” the lady repeated at least three times before she managed to reach the rationed bread.

Near there, on the outskirts of José Miguel Pérez high school, where last Friday there were rows of teenagers, this Monday at eight in the morning only a dozen students were seen. While a few days ago they sang the national anthem during the morning assembly, today only the bell rang, without prior ceremonies, to call them to the classrooms. Although classes have not been suspended, the “parents’ rebellion” consists of not sending their children to school.

The top photo is from this Monday, with the few students who attended classes at the José Miguel Pérez pre-university in Havana, and the bottom one is the same place last Friday. (14ymedio)

At mid-morning there was a knock on our door. It was two medical students with more fear than conviction. They stayed far from the threshold and asked if anyone felt bad in our house or if we had recently traveled. “No symptoms… yet,” we replied and they went to the other side of the hall. They were younger than my son Teo and I thought about their parents’ anxiety knowing that they are outside, exposed.

A neighbor has asked us if we knew of any notary who provides services at home. Past 70, the woman is worried because she has not made a will and wants to leave her inheritance legalized “in case the Covid-19 appears.” Her two children are out of Cuba and “they have already lost their right to residence here so they do not have the right to the apartment,” she emphasizes. We tried to calm her, but the lady has sound reasons: “Even dead I’m not leaving my house to the State,” she adds.

If the weekly packet had already gained prominence in our lives in recent years, now it becomes vital. That compendium of pirated audiovisuals comes to replace the leaden official selection that these days reaches unbearable heights of ideology. While in the rest of the world living through this quarantine many are hooked on Netflix or other streaming services, at home we cling to the hard drive that we fill every Monday with movies and documentaries from the weekly packet.

And yes, we have to disinfect it as soon as it arrives. We have allocated a little alcohol to clean the device, although, in the small private store where they load it up, the employee wears a mask and gloves. Those waiting in line for copies of TV series, films and soap operas have cleaned their hands at the entrance with a chlorinated solution. The environment smells clean and scary.

The new little dog that has come to our house still has no name. We are delaying because, in the end, as the poet Eliseo Diego would say, in this Cuba of the emergency we have only “time, all the time.”

*Translator’s note: Polyneuropathy was a common illness during the time after the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of its enormous subsidy to Cuba –a time known as the “Special Period in a Time of Peace — due to the resulting malnutrition that plagued the island.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 2 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Keeping the schools open at all levels has been one of the official decisions most questioned by citizens.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2020 — It’s Sunday and the clotheslines in the building are about to snap from the weight of the clothes. This morning they turned the water pump on early and families rushed to wash everything that had accumulated during the week. School uniforms are the priority, although many hope that classes will be canceled soon due to the advance of Covid-19 on the Island.

Keeping schools open at all levels has been one of the official decisions most questioned by citizens. The officials started by saying that the country “had never closed schools in the face of any epidemic,” and then later explained that a suspension would bring stress and with it “a drop in the immune system” and, finally, they qualified by adding that they are reviewing how to continue teaching “every day.”

But everything indicates that they cannot guarantee distance learning in a country where the computerization of society is weighed down by technological limitations and the high price of internet connections. But neither do they have the flexibility to restructure the centralized model of education and guarantee care in the community for the children of those who work in essential sectors. continue reading

So we are trapped in rhetoric, just as we will soon be trapped inside our homes.

I was finally able to buy the potatoes. “The ones that are left are small,” said the employee, with a certain aftertaste, when I arrived at the stall this Sunday where they limited sales to only seven pounds for each person. “Yesterday I got the eggs and today the potatoes, so it looks like a Spanish omelette,” I thought, in tribute to all my friends who are fighting the pandemic right now in the “Motherland.”

A neighbor has the theory that products that we never imagined will now reach the markets. “Since no more tourists will come, I am sure that the food from the hotels will be sold to Cubans,” she says, but her hypothesis has not convinced me. “If we see grapefruit, shrimp and beef arrive at the stores, it will be the ‘foreigners’ reserves”, she concludes with enthusiasm.

I find it hard to believe that there will be an upturn in the sale of food, the omens go rather in the other direction. This morning, the nearby Youth Labor Army market on Tulipán Street was “more peeled than a banana,” according to a customer who entered and left with the same empty bag. A small private business, just a few yards away, had almost run out of bread and cookies by mid-morning.

Before nine I managed to finish the facemask I was sewing, but I was not aesthetically very presentable. It doesn’t matter. It serves to cover part of my face and will be very useful when entering the small Russian-made elevator that serves the more than half a thousand people who live in this building, carrying them up and down. There are those who even enter the tight metal box while smoking, so my facemask will do double duty.

I also have some neighbors who seem to have qualified as epidemiologists in a week and give advice as if they had practiced medicine for years. Others are calculating and trying to take advantage of the situation. “We are going to become rich by selling interferon alfa 2B,” repeats a retired Communist Party militant who spends long hours in the basement of the building.

It matters little if someone tells him that this allegedly Cuban antiviral was discovered by a Swiss in 1979 at the University of Zurich and that it is one of the 30 drugs that are being used to treat Covid-19, but there is nothing conclusive about its effectiveness when fighting disease. The man keeps repeating that “we are going to get rich,” while waving his ration book in one hand.

A few yards from our concrete block, a daughter who migrated abroad was able to send her family a package of food and cleaning supplies. The shipment includes disposable diapers for the two bedridden elderly in the home, cared for by another daughter, who is also in her 60s. I try not to think about what will happen to those three lonely and vulnerable people if the virus spreads.

Amid the uncertainty about supplies, at home we now have “one more mouth.” Friday, a homeless little barker who could no longer stay in her temporary home arrived. A friend asked me to take care of her for a few days, but I think she will stay even though my cat Totí and my dog ​​Tinta have not yet accepted her. We were going to name her “Corona,” but it is a very big name for such a tiny animal.

Among the collateral victims of this whole situation are the thousands of abandoned animals that are found all over the Island. If they are normally exposed to mistreatment, violent death and hunger, we now add the fact that many people who feed them do not want to leave home for fear of contagion. The false rumors also do them a lot of damage.

A few days ago, an official journalist stoked the fears. In a Telecubanacán program, he asked a guest specialist if pets transmitted the disease, but when he did not receive the answer he wanted, he added on his own: “I wouldn’t pet them that much anyway.” Soon after, the protectors began to fill the networks with photos of themselves petting their dogs and cats, but the damage was already done.

In the coming weeks the number of abandoned pets may grow due to the fear of contagion and due to problems in obtaining food. The little dog we’ve adopted, still without a name, has no idea what is coming.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Put the Planet First: Globalism and Nationalsim

Covid-19 spread from China’s Wuhan province to the rest of the planet. (SINC Agency)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 22 March 2020 — The current crisis began in an open-air market where live animals were sold, in a remote corner of the world. Covid-19 spread from China’s Wuhan province to the rest of the planet. It seems that it originated from the habit of drinking bat soup that the Chinese have, or at least some Chinese.

The New York and London Stock Exchanges plummeted. Cinemas, theaters and concerts around the world were closed. Many shopping centers and restaurants were also closed. Experts announced that unemployment would increase exponentially. In the United States it could reach 20% of the population. Chaos. Armageddon.

The anecdote will result in several million deaths, even more than two million in the United States, according to The Economist magazine. It must end the idiotic debate between “nationalists” and “globalists.” continue reading

Nationalism is not only stupid. It is even worse; it is impossible, despite what Brexit supporters say or vote. It is an incontrovertible fact; globalism, that is, the notion that we are all interrelated and must shelter behind supranational institutions, although many of them are frustrating, however perfectible, and we must behave as human beings beyond flags and hymns.

That was the dilemma posed to the United States after the end of World War II–trying to rebuild the planet and help even the defeated countries, or risk another similar conflict as a result of resentment and nationalism, that explosive mixture that had burst only two decades after the end of the First War.

Fortunately, the F. D. Roosevelt and H. Truman tandem was in the White House and they both understood their country’s contemporary history. After Roosevelt died and the war was won, a journalist asked Truman if it made sense to rebuild Germany and the rest of Europe at the cost of $13 billion through the Marshall Plan. “That figure is infinitely less than what the war cost us,” the president replied. He was right.

The idea of “put America (or England, Russia, China or Germany) first” is foolish. It is true that globalism slows down the processes of wealth creation due to the clumsiness of international organizations; and it is no less true that abuses are committed against some key nations such as the United States, but the cost of abandoning the path of solidarity and internationalism is too high to assume.

Globalism arose, in an embryonic way, thousands of years ago, when two people belonging to different tribes established a kind of exchange beyond their respective languages. Those were the remote antecedents of the UN, the European Union and the fight to mitigate the problems of climate change that are being debated today.

At the end of the 15th century, globalism gained a new momentum with the discovery of the Americas in 1492. The Kingdom of Castile, chance and marriages of convenience within the royalty allowed the arid plateau–then determined to reconquer the territory that had been taken by the Arabs many centuries before–to transform into a formidable imperial power that ruled the world for a century with the help of the Church, the Genoese bankers and the trading instruments devised in the Netherlands.

Finally, since the 17th and 18th centuries France and Germany (which became a nation unified by Prussia in the 19th century) picked up the baton, as England unleashed the industrial revolution and rose to the top of the world, spawning in America thirteen colonies that ended up becoming independent and, as they took into account the thought of the Scottish Enlightenment, ended up becoming the most successful republic in history.

None of this would have happened without a globalist mindset. Nationalism must be forgotten. After all, states, as we know them, are only a few hundred years old. Little by little, the planet is unifying in the most successful expressions. Overcoming many obstacles, with ups and downs, representative democracy, the cult of human rights, the market and freedom are gradually prevailing. That is also globalization. Put the planet first.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 1 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

For weeks we had been crying out for tourism to be cut off and for the national media to warn of the seriousness of the situation. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 March 2020 — I got up before the sun came up and had a coffee on the balcony, 14 floors above the ground. The city was still silent and dark. A few hours earlier they had announced measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus on the Island, so this Saturday we entered an unknown territory: zero hugs, social distancing, practically closed borders, hotels turned into quarantine zones and 11 million people “regulated” and unable to leave the country. (“Regulated” is a term the government applies to those it finds “uncomfortable” and bars from leaving the country.)

For weeks we had been crying out for tourism to be cut off and for the national media to warn of the seriousness of the situation, but official voices preferred triumphalism and spread the idea that we were more than prepared to face the disease. Yesterday, that arrogance was shattered. The same people who a few days before had been speaking of not creating alarm and of the superiority of the Cuban health system recognized the “silent advance of the disease,” the possible “collapse of the health system” and the need for isolation.

In an hour, we went from caricatures of nurses batting the virus away from the Island, to official faces marked by worry. In my neighborhood something has also changed since that afternoon, but many still find it hard to believe that we are facing an danger we can’t see, one that does not come with strong winds like a hurricane and that nobody can pinpoint on a map. However, even the most disbelieving have begun to have a lost look and avoid greeting each other with kisses or handshakes. continue reading

From the early hours, the arrival of eggs and potatoes at the rationed market generated long lines and even the odd fight. The line at the bottom of the building was a sample of the aging population that lives in the neighborhood and throughout Cuba: bags, gray hair and canes. Occasionally someone who coughed caused a stir. I was finally able to buy the eggs but I couldn’t find potatoes. “At least it’s something,” I said to myself even though I’d had the illusion of mashed potatoes for lunch.

This morning a neighbor knocked on our door to ask for some water. For months the building’s motor can only be started once a day because the cistern can’t fill up. In the afternoon, when the liquid begins to run through the pipes, the residents of the 144 apartments in this Yugoslav model concrete block begin a race against the clock to store the precious liquid in tanks, buckets and pots. With the announcements this Friday, that anxiety has multiplied.

So I also stored my water reserves and took out the sewing machine that has not been used for years. In the absence of masks in pharmacies, I want to make my own protection kit for when the situation worsens. I have found a piece of cloth that can help me and I have also located a bottle of alcohol, some vitamins and a thermometer with a dead battery. We are fine, because others don’t have even have.

Getting the sewing machine going again has taken me over an hour. I’d even forgotten which way the thread had to go to get to the needle. After several attempts I managed to make a firm seam on the fabric. The sound relaxed me for a few minutes and brought me back to my childhood, when hurricane emergencies were days of storytelling around a flashlight, eating canned food, and not going to class.

As I thread, cut the pieces that will make the mask and hit the pedal of the machine, I listen to the radio. They transmit a special program on the coronavirus in which voluntarism and restlessness still alternate, along with a certain chauvinistic arrogance in response to the uneasiness before the number of patients who have tested positive, which has already reached 21, two of them in serious condition.

The presenters constantly make nationalistic allusions, point out the failures of other countries to curb infections and sing praises to the “Chinese response” to the disease. If the words specific to Covid-19 were dropped, it would seem that the announcers are speaking of some ideological battle against out neighbor to the north or of the need to over produce in some area of agriculture.

“Onions!” Shouts a vendor in the hallway and brings me back to the reality of my home, my building, and my neighborhood. “Take advantage of it now!” he adds in a tone between a merchant and a sergeant. “Come on, buy onions, they are the last!” he emphasizes and suddenly I feel that life as we knew it until yesterday has ended.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

A Cuban Radiologist Recounts His Experience From Italy

In Turin, Italy, it’s also difficult to contain the coronavirus. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Galina González, Turin, March 21, 2020 — We here in Italy have already  lived for a month in this nightmare, and in spite of the fact that we haven’t reached the peak of the contagion, we are very aware of the restrictive measures that must be taken. Avoid contact with others and keep a one-meter distance if you don’t have a face mask. Wash your hands often and never touch your face while you are in the street. Avoid going out unless it’s for work or to buy food and medicine. The Red Cross has activated volunteer services to help the elderly.

When everything began in February, I didn’t know very well what I had to do and things were less clear. For me it was more difficult in relation to my work in the hospital, but now I am less worried. I work in radiology where women who have been operated on for breast cancer come to be monitored, but on March 9 they asked us to suspend all exams. My work right now consists of telephoning and giving information to patients. I don’t work with patients infected with the virus.

With all the restrictions that many people have who can’t go to work, it’s good right now to be able to work.

I feel I am living in a future that now everyone outside Italy is beginning to experience, and I’m worried about you. No one is prepared for this epidemic unless you are living inside it. i tried to give some advice to people outside Italy but realized it’s difficult to understand if it’s not happening to you.

I live in Turin, which is not as large as Milan, where it’s very difficult to contain the infection. Here when I go out to work in the morning with my bicycle I don’t have to stop at any traffic lights even if they’re red, because there’s no traffic. But I can see people walking their dogs.

When I finish work at 4:00 in the afternoon, it’s hard to see anyone walking in the center. Everything is closed: bars, shops, theaters, etc. And if the police see you outside your house they can stop and question you just because you’re outside. They’ve never stopped me because I have a certificate already prepared saying it’s for work.

I heard a radio program on the epidemic in other countries, and Cuba seems to be reluctant to take the restrictive measures necessary to avoid contagion. I saw a video on Facebook about a meeting of medical students in Cuba. A doctor was talking and asked someone to take off his mask or leave the room. This is disturbing, not to mention criminal. It could mean disaster. Be vigilant, all of you, and take preventive measures, even if the Government is taking its time to do it.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The U.S. Embassy in Cuba Suspends its Services Because of Coronavirus

The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Havana will offer only emergency services for U.S. citizens. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, March 17, 2020 — On Monday, the U.S. Embassy suspended “routine” services for North American citizens owing to the health emergency posed by the coronavirus, according to a diplomatic communication.

“As a result, the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Havana will offer only emergency services for U.S. citizens and non-migrant visa services,” it added.

Applicants who already have appointments will be notified by email when routine services resume, the Embassy indicated.

Cuba now has five confirmed cases — one in a critical state — of the illness caused by Covid-19.

The U.S. had already suspended consular services for immigrant and tourist visas some years ago because of mysterious attacks that required the evacuation of a large part of its Embassy staff in Havana.

Relations between the U.S. and Cuba have cooled since ex-President Barack Obama reestablished diplomatic ties between both countries and traveled to Havana to promote what was known as the “thaw”.

The policy of rapprochement, harshly criticized in South Florida where most of the exiled Cubans live, gave way to an escalation of confrontation after President Donald Trump took office. He blames Cuba for the authoritarian drift of Nicolás Maduro’s regime. Most of Cuba’s economic support comes from Venezuela.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

14 Rumors About Coronavirus: Some Cuban and Others Universal

Non-professional face masks can help not infect others, but not to protect oneself. (Pedro Luis García)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, March 16, 2020 — Here at 14ymedio we want to contribute to the truthful spread of information about the coronavirus. We are aware that we don’t have many certainties up to this point, given that the virus is new and research all over the world is beginning to be carried out with the little data available, but there is a lack of scientific evidence that can settle certain questions.

However, we want to help in checking information in face of the risk that Cubans may receive propaganda or disinformation in a centralized system. Here we offer 14 questions and verified answers.

Has Cuba developed a vaccine against the coronavirus?

At this time there is no vaccine against the coronavirus. Neither Cuba nor any other country has developed it although there are various laboratories in some twenty countries around the world that are working on it. The World Health Organization has already warned that it will not be ready in less than a year, since there are many subsequent studies that have to be done. This weekend there was a controversy between the US and Germany, since that country has accused Washington of wanting to make it exclusively with the trial from the pharmaceutical CureVac.

Does Cuba have “the cure” for coronavirus for already infected cases? 

Those infected do not develop the sickness (they are asymptomatic) at a high rate, but around 30 or 40% do, with pneumonia being the most dangerous which, linked with chronic conditions (hypertension, coronary pathologies, diabetes) and depressed immune systems (in cancer treatment or HIV carriers) can become complicated, meaning a risk to life. continue reading

Patients with symptoms are being treated all over the world with different medications and therapies, but until now no country has a totally effective cure, because it largely depends on the point at which the disease is detected, the state in which the sick person arrives at the hospital, and his or her previous medical condition, as well as the medical care they can receive, thus the importance of not filling up hospitals.

Is interferon a “cure” for coronavirus?

In recent weeks the news that the Cuban drug Interferon Alpha 2B has helped thousands of Chinese patients recover from the pneumonia associated with COVID-19 has circulated widely on social media. The trigger for this information was a tweet by Miguel Díaz-Canel in which he assured that it was “Interferon Alpha 2B: the Cuban drug used in China against the coronavirus.” However, the leader’s message did not clarify that it was one of 30 medications being used in the Asian country in the treatment of those patients.

One day after that tweet, the newspaper Granma, official organ of the Communist Party, added that the Cuban drug has had “palpable results in the cure of more than 1,500 patients,” but without citing sources. An investigation carried out by the Venezuelan site Efecto Cocuyo revealed that the figure in reality corresponded with those patients who had managed to recover from the disease up until February 6, but the official Chinese report where that statistic appears for the first time “never attributes their recovery to the effect of the Cuban drug or any other treatment.”

The Cuban Embassy in China also spread the message, on February 5, and touted the role of the drug in Chinese authorities’ fight against COVID-19: “The Health Commission has selected our product among those used in the fight against #coronavirus,” the Cuban embassy in Beijing wrote on Twitter. However, on the website for the mixed Chinese-Cuban company ChangHeber, with headquarters in the city of Changchun, where the recombinant Interferon Alpha 2B is made, there is still no information on its use in patients with coronavirus. The website only mentions its efficacy in treating hepatitis, leukemia, lymphoma, papilloma, and myeloma, among other illnesses.

Cuban authorities have brandished the massive local fabrication of Interferon Alpha 2B as one of the main strengths of the country in face of the advance of the disease; however, some specialists qualify this assertion. “The drug is not going to prevent you from getting infected, it doesn’t cure COVID-19 by itself, and although it has proven useful to alleviate symptoms, there will not be tons of Interferon that will save us in the case that the appropriate measures of containment and mitigation are not applied, and as a consequence, the health system will collapse,” warned the Cuban biologist Amílcar Pérez Riverol.

Do high temperatures prevent infection?

Although there are various scientific theories that indicate that the virus does not tolerate temperatures above 82 degrees fahrenheit, none of them have yet been proven and the WHO maintains that the coronavirus can circulate in any area unless the opposite is proven. This contradicts the propaganda of the Ministry of Tourism that is promoting Cuba as a safe destination for sun and sand. Spreading this information, currently, is irresponsible.

It was only on Sunday, and after the rumor about heat as an “antidote” for coronavirus had widely circulated, that national Cuban television issued a denial. By that point, the deceitful advertisement by Havanatur and Cubatur had already reached thousands of potential vacationers. That advertisement also included the claim that “seawater” kills bacteria, which makes Cuba even more attractive as a destination, but is a matter of confusion because COVID-19 is a virus, not a bacteria.

Will tourists find a “safe destination” in Cuba and free and effective medical attention if they get sick on the Island?

There has been on official pronouncement that the tourists hospitalized in Cuba for coronavirus symptoms will be treated for free. Bárbara Cruz Rodríguez, general director of Marketing of Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism, assured that “clients who decide to come to Cuba will be well received” and “we will give them all services,” an assertion that indicates that the Government could be planning for a time in which the national coffers suffer a serious drop in funds.

To this must be added that, over the weekend, the Italian tourist Marta Cavallo, who is admitted under suspicion of coronavirus at the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK), reported on the conditions in she is experiencing in that hospital. “We are in a terrible hospital, in dramatic sanitary conditions, they ask us to take the soup from the plate, there isn’t even toilet paper…they don’t give us news of any kind,” she wrote on Facebook.

Can the borders remain open and the arrival of tourists kept up without this influencing the number of infections? Did the airport controls detect the first cases of coronavirus?

The border controls are currently one of the resources most used by the majority of countries, but their success is relative. Border closing has been used in China, which has managed to check the epidemic, but not in South Korea, which is also achieving that.

Border closings can help because it limits mobility and, thus, social distancing is being demonstrated as effective, although it is not effective alone. Airport controls are hardly reliable despite being used in a massive form. The majority of those infected are asymptomatic and especially in the first days, when the viral load is lower. Even tests may not detect it, creating a false sense of security. Quarantine, on the other hand, does guarantee greater security without an investment of resources.

Does keeping classes open help turn schools into detection centers?

In general, the majority of countries are proceeding to close schools. Although children appear to be less likely to present grave symptoms or get sick, they are carriers of the virus in any case and have a high risk of transmitting it through their socialization and lower awareness of the seriousness of the situation.

Although children are encouraged to wash their hands frequently, they touch each other and many surfaces when they play, which is why schools are important transmission centers.

In some places with more elderly populations, like Cuba, where grandparents frequently assume childcare duties while the children’s parents work, it could also be an added risk of infecting one of the greatest high risk groups.

Cuba has 1,125,000 residents aged 60-69, 768,000 aged 70-79, and 392,000 older than 80, rates very similar to those of Italy and Spain, countries battered by the virus. It is a case that can be learned from Spain, where the same thing is happening and where children are urged not to visit their grandparents.

Is early detection enough to stop the coronavirus?

In part yes, but in the case of Cuba the four confirmed cases of coronavirus are people who passed through the airports without any symptom being detected. One of them, a Bolivian living in Milan, arrived on the Island on February 24 and was in Santa Clara without her illness having been detected before she joined, on March 8, her Cuban husband, who was then presenting cough and fever. By then, the tourist had overcome the coronavirus and interacted with dozens of people.

So although early detection can help, the measures of containment and restriction on mobility, entry into the country, quarantine, and self-isolation seem to be more effective to slow down the speed of transmission, thus attempting to not collapse the health systems.

Do the cloth surgical masks that will be distributed in Cuba work as a barrier against the virus?

There are different types of face masks, the majority of which are available to people, as is the case with the cloth face masks that are planned to be distributed on the Island. But these masks do not prevent contagion, although they do prevent transmission.

Infected people can use them to avoid infecting others, but healthy people cannot avoid being infected that way. The clinical ones are more effective, but neither are they the only measure. There is a shortage all over the world of masks, although the industry is making them at a forced march and China has sent shipments to various countries that need them. Cuba already warned that the lack of money will prevent buying them.

Can rum be used to sanitize the hands?

In face of the shortage of soap to wash hands and also other products like sanitizing gel, Cubans are making use of other products to maintain hygiene. Perfumes, colognes, and even rum are some of them, but it is likely that these solutions do not totally protect those who use them.

To sanitize the hands and eliminate the virus requires alcohol in a sufficient quantity as well as glycerine, experts warn. The small boxes (tetrapack) of Planchao or Silver Dry rum that many are using as a hand “gel” only have 36% alcohol when a concentration of 70% is required. Specialists reiterate that a better way of protecting oneself from coronavirus is washing one’s hands with soap and water frequently, for at least 20 seconds each time.

Is it useful to drink alcohol or hot beverages to prevent contagion?

The rumor that hot drinks helps prevent coronavirus comes directly from the belief that temperature has an influence. As we previously said, there is no evidence yet that the virus dies at 82 degrees, but additionally the infection system is not related to the consumption of liquids. Some doctors have even warned that these false tricks can be counterproductive if they affect the mucous membrane. Regarding alcohol, not only is that theory unfounded but it is also very dangerous. In Iran last week 36 people died, drunk from consuming alcohol believing that it would stop contagion.

At what distance can the virus be caught?

A totally secure distance is one greater than two meters. The virus is transmitted through fluids, like drops of saliva and nasal secretions that leave a person who coughs or sneezes, which is approximately one meter. In the case of living with someone who is infected, measures must be taken like isolating them in one room and avoiding sharing a bathroom, in addition to maintaining the hygiene of the home and persons. All these measures are very complicated in the context of the homes and hygiene products found in Cuba. To which must be added that common on the Island are long lines to buy basic products, packed public transport, and overwhelmed bureaucracy offices.

Can pets be infected?

No. Pets like cats and dogs cannot be infected with the coronavirus and, in fact, one of the exceptions to confinement in the countries that have imposed it, like Italy and Spain, is for taking out dogs, although as quickly as possible and only with one person. Despite everything, it is a good idea to maximize hygiene by washing hands very well with soap and water after touching pets.

Is there any home test to see if one is infected?

In some countries there has spread a rumor that one can simply check if he or she has been infected by filling the lungs and seeing if there is no pain in the side when holding the breath for 10 seconds. Neither this nor any other test works for self diagnosis. Following recommendations from health authorities and, in the case of presenting symptoms, self isolating or consulting doctors are the measures that stop the spread of the virus. Ruling out the illness with these types of false tests can only contribute to spreading the infection.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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