Little by Little, Havana Toughens Social Distancing Measures

Havana city officials sounded the alarm over multiple cases of asymptomatic patients who tested positive for Covid-19. Calls to further limit outdoor activity followed. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 9, 2020 – A stay-at-home policy began Wednesday in part of the Havana municipal district of El Cerro,  after an increase in coronavirus cases in that area. This is the second Havana residential neighborhood in which Covid-19 containment measures have been ordered.

Unnecessary movement of individuals will be restricted within the four blocks bordered by Buenos Aires, Agua Dulce, Diana, Carvajal, Serafines, Alejandro Ramírez and Flores streets.

“This is not just a police issue, but one for everybody,” said Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar, president of the Provincial Defense Council. “People cannot be walking around and performing activities that don’t have any justification at all.”

City officials sounded the alarm over multiple cases of asymptomatic patients who tested positive. The limits on movement were the response. But officials added that anyone suffering from possible Covid-19 symptoms should see a doctor. continue reading

El Cerro is one of the most densely populated districts in the Cuban capital. It is also among the neighborhoods with the most shared-housing units, as well as buildings in bad or substandard condition. In addition, the area suffers from a serious lack of access to water, a condition now worsened by drought.

Reinado García Zapata, the defense council vice-president, added that considerable foot traffic has been observed in areas including the Buenos Aires neighborhood and the Diez de Octubre municipal district. He recommended that it be reduced — raising the expectation that these areas will be the next ones in which control measures are ordered.

Plaza de la Revolución and El Cerro continue to be the areas with the greatest numbers of positive cases. New measures will be taken in Consejo Popular de Lotería, in the Cotorro municipal district.

Stepped-up controls ordered last week in El Carmelo, in the centrally located El Vedado neighborhood, were eventually less strict than expected. Citizens were asked to stay at home except for those who were performing “indispensable” work.

García Zapata requested more control in the inter-provincial transport vehicles that operate under an exception to travel restrictions. He noted an increase in the number of people who board these vehicles in restricted areas as a result of illegal deals with drivers. He added that controls should be toughened on production centers for masks, in order to ensure that these are distributed on a rational basis.

Tatiana Viera, coordinator for the defense council, said that there are 27 centers for epidemiological isolation. And additional institutions have been designated to house health workers from other provinces who arrive to augment intensive care personnel. These sites include a hotel run by the Cuban Workers Union and the guest house of the Union of Young Communists.

Among other measures that have been taken are limits on the operating hours of restaurants and stores, which will close at 8 PM. In addition, state-owned establishments such as those operated by independent workers who provide 24-hour-a-day service will be open only during the day.

In another move, a staff member of the Havana Prosecutor’s Office will be assigned to each police unit, in order to take action against those who violate measures including required wearing of masks. or drinking alcoholic beverages on the street. Moreover, sales of rum will be limited to one bottle per customer, and beer will be sold only to customers buying take-out food.

Those who try to set up lines where goods are sold, as well as street merchants, will be fined. “People go out to buy in these markets, and have to make their purchases quickly,” provincial authorities said. They requested increased food production, and better control over sales centers for fruits and vegetables.

Translated by Peter Katel


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Cuba Promotes Homeopathy, Which Is Considered Junk Science In Spain

Homeopathy, which works only by placebo effect, has been used and promoted in Cuba, while it is fading in Europe, including in countries where it has been very popular.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana/Madrid, 7 April 2020 — A homeopathy debate is in its infant stage in Cuba. But arguments grew more intense last weekend after Francisco Durán, national director of the Public Health Ministry’s Sanitation and Epidemiology Department, announced the availabaility of PrevengHo-Vir, a homeopathic preventive product to strengthen defenses against the coronavirus. He also warned that the product “does not prevent infection, nor eliminate the need for protective measures” such as hand-washing and social distancing.

In a press conference, the doctor said that the product — which patients take under the tongue — helps to prevent various illnesses such as influenza, the common cold, dengue and emerging viral contagions.  “Organized distribution throughout the population is planned,” Durán specified.

Initially, the product will be provided via the primary care system to the elderly and to those in the at-risk category, and later to the rest of the population. The medication, manufactured by state-owned BioCubaFarma, is a hydro-alcohol solution  “with homeopathic plant, mineral, animal and biological strains,” said Diadelis Ramírez, a researcher at the Center for State Control of Medication Quality (Cecmed). continue reading

The officials stated that “scientific journals have been published in which this has a demonstrated effect,” but they did not provide details. Cuban medical schools and the public health systrm have promoted homeopathy for decades. They explain it partly as a response to the medication shortage. The official press has not given any space to those who openly criticize this practice. And most Cubans have not had access to sources that reject homeopathy as junk science.

This not the first time that Cuban officials resort to a kind of product that, as Durán said, is “very innocuous.” These fake remedies were deployed against cholera outbreaks on the island in 2012 and 2013.

The debate has surfaced on social media and has drawn attention to events in a country with which Cuba maintains close ties — a country that has staked out a position on the other side, and which has been leading a European fight against homeopathy for the past two years. That country is Spain.

Spain has tried several times to regulate homeopathy, in line with a European directive of 2001. But the country never came as close as it did in May, 2018, when Dolors Montserrat of the Partido Popular, then the Health, Social Services and Equality Minister, approved an order that allowed pharmacies to sell homeopathic remedies as medications, although a report by the ministry admitted that these products did not cure ailments. The entire political opposition, including the Ciudadanos party (liberal, a PP partner in several autonomous and local administrations), raised an outcry.

“The very term, ’homeopathic medication,’ is self-contradicting,” Teresa Giménez, a Ciudadanos member of the European Parliament, told the minister. “A medication has to have some effect on an illness, and homeopathy defines itself correctly as a product that is so diluted as to be innocuous.”

The Cochrane Library, an online collection of medical databases, has just published its seventh study contradicting homeopathy. It was the latest of an endless series of refutations of a pseudo-therapy born in Germany more than 200 years ago.  Created in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, the method is based on the dilution of natural substances into infinitesmally small doses. Medical literature has concluded that its only property is the placebo effect.

The Spanish government that took office in 2018 includes two active opponents of homepathy. One of them, Science Minister Pedro Duque, the first Spanish astronaut, explained his position bluntly last year: “It is clear, from current regulations, that you can’t tell a pharmacy not to sell candy. There’s no problem putting homeopathy in the same category as candy.”

In 2016, the University of Barcelona canceled its homeopathy master’s degree program “for lack of scientific basis” And two years ago, all Spanish universities — acting on their own, not by governmental decree — canceled homeopathy studies.  Only private organizations offer any courses in the subject.

The war against homeopathy came to Brussels in September, 2017, when the Spanish government urged the EU to change its legislation, a measure that had never been taken at that level. Spain condemned the fact that “there have been cases of cancer patients dying after giving up scientifically based treatment for homeopathic products.” Current regulations were a “health risk” to citizens, the Spanish government said.

The homeopathic industry has been growing. And, organized into strong lobbying groups, it has been earning millions, billing more than 60 million euros a year in Spain, with tax-exempt status, as if its products were medications. The exemption is based on the sole certainty that homeopathic products are not harmful. However, danger arises when a patient stops taking a medication under the belief that homeopathy can replace it. In 2017, a child in Italy died after being treated homeopathically for an ear infection.

In recent years, various European countries have taken the same path. The United Kingdom stopped financing homeopathy in its public health system in 2018. France will withdraw public subsidies of these products in 2021. Currently, the French public health system reimburses 30 percent of the cost of some 1,200 homeopathic products. That support represents nearly 127 million euros taken from the national budget, and from taxpayers’ pockets. Meanwhile, here in Cuba, the government itself manufactures and promotes these products.

Translated by Peter Katel


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 Santiago de Cuba They Are Recommending Anamu Tablets to Fight the Pandemic

The shortage of basic products is also forcing people into the streets despite the risks.(Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 2020. Even before hot weather starts in Santiago de Cuba, official measures to counter Covid-19 haven’t discouraged residents from going outside. The need to buy food combines with a sense that risks are low, thereby worsening the situation.

Many Santiago residents find it hard to comply with guidance in the local press to not go outside after 7 PM. The Provincial Defense Council’s resolution was announced on April 3, but pedestrians and groups were again taking to the avenues and plazas last weekend.

“People in Santiago aren’t compliant,” Luis Ponce, a young Santiago resident who runs an electrical appliance repair business. “On Saturday, the police had to come out with dogs to get people out of the parks.” In his opinion, the population has not yet accepted the seriousness of the situation. continue reading

Overcrowded housing is one of the key factors that makes Santiago de Cuba a city that lives with its doors open to the outside. “Putting the domino table in front of the house, spending the night sitting on the sidewalk to cool off, letting the kids play in the hallway, that was our life until a little while ago,” says Yampier, a young man in the San Pedrito barrio.

“The only thing to do here for fun at night is to go down to the park or stay in the barrio with your friends, but now the police want us inside the house, but there are eight of us in mine,” he says sadly. “After spending an hour cooped up in my house I can’t take it any more. If it’s not my sister’s little boy crying, it’s my grandmother complaining, or my father drunk.”

“Anamú tablets versus coronavirus,” is the headline in the state-run Sierra Maestra newspaper over a text promoting the pills.

“The situation is very critical,” Nelva Ortega, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and a resident of the Altamira neighborhood, tells 14ymedio. “Food is lacking in every one of our homes, because there is a supply shortage.”

“I went out last Sunday and when I was looking for some kind of meat the only thing we found was really expensive ground turkey, and they don’t let you buy more than two packages,” the medical school graduate says. “When there were sausages, which now there aren’t, they only let you buy one package. Chicken, when they had it a few days ago, which led to kilometer-long lines, they only sold you one package.”

Ortega notes that “there were people who had been in line since the day before. At 5 in the afternoon, you can see people in line to buy for the next day. Right now, you can’t find toothpaste in any store, and when soap is for sale you can only buy two.”

A third factor is aggravating the problem of crowds in the streets. Although Santiago de Cuba Province has received major investments in recent years to upgrade the water and sewage system, water delivery is still a problem in many neighborhoods. Distribution cycles have been spread out, and in some areas, water is not being delivered once a week, as it had been.

“The situation is tending to worsen,” said Sierra Maestra, the official newspaper. But the prolonged drought has made increased use of tanker trucks necessary for Santiago residents. Long and closely packed lines in front of the tankers, as people wait to fill up their buckets and containers, create conditions for the spread of Covid-19.

In an effort to lift peoples’ spirits, official media don’t hesitate to promote natural products, such as Anamú, to fight the pandemic. Tablets produced in the Laboratorio Farmacéutico Oriente (Oriente Pharmaceutical Laboratory) stimulate “the body’s production of interferon, an essential protein to fight against different pathogens and viruses, in this case an effective measure against Covid-19,” Sierra Maestra said.

Translated by Peter Katel


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