Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 May 2020 — If the Cuban official figures are taken as true, we could be certain that the days are numbered for the COVID-19 epidemic on the Island. In fact, saying “epidemic” is to disagree with the phases which the Chinese flu has gone through in Cuba, as established by the authorities, since in the more than two months that have transpired since the first cases were confirmed – three Italian tourists who presented with symptoms and tested positive – up to now, an epidemiological alarm stage has never been declared in the country.
The numbers trend indicates such a sharp and rapid drop that fear of contagion has begun to fade among the population and the perception of risk has been largely lost. Almost no one remembers that just a month ago the Cuban health authorities predicted the approximate date of mid-May for the “peak” of COVID-19 in Cuba; a forecast that was updated shortly after, on April 27th, when the pro-government site Cubadebate announced that it would actually take place during the following week, between May 4th and 10th.
We would thus place ourselves 77 days at the midpoint of the international peak, we would have a minimum peak of 1,500 cases and a maximum of 2,500 cases, instead of the 4,500 cases originally anticipated. Cuba – Cubadebate also reassured – would not go through a “critical scenario.”
In line with such good wishes and apparently in compliance with the guidance of Mr. Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s president, who shortly before had declared that the patient numbers were very high and it was necessary to lower them, the MINSAP report of the same day, April 27th acknowledged only 20 new positive cases (out of 1823 samples analyzed). The figure more than doubled (with 48 cases in 1859 samples) the following day, before starting a sustained decrease in the trend, only interrupted on May 2nd, when the exception of an increase of 74 cases was registered. Since then, and up to the writing of this article, there has been a downward trend, with slight fluctuations that averaged 9.85 cases of infection in the last week (May 18th to May 24th).
It is worth pointing out that, regardless of the natural mistrust that official statistical data may arouse in a country where a strong monopoly of information is maintained, and where secrecy prevails and there are no independent institutions of the State against which to compare these reports, the truth is that everything indicates that the Chinese flu has not spread with the same virulence on the Island as in other regions. This is especially the case if we bear in mind that – in view of the imperatives of searching for food, medicine and other products of basic necessity on the part of the population – the measures of social isolation and distancing between people, in addition to quarantines in disease cluster zones that were established by the OMS and formally reiterated by the government, have not been practiced.
However, the crowds circulating through the streets, the lines in front of the scarcely supplied markets where hundreds of people gather, among other agglomerations, are the perfect breeding ground for the spread of a pandemic that in most countries has been claiming hundreds or thousands of human lives. And this is why, considering the low overall incidence of the pandemic among us, many ordinary Cubans have begun to believe that the Island is protected by some divine miracle.
And while that feeling, a mixture of false immunity and trickery, is spreading dangerously among the poorest (and also most vulnerable) people, one needs to question the low number of tests that have been conducted – a total of 95,511 samples analyzed in a population of 11 million inhabitants – and the failure to carry out massive testing, even in neighborhoods where outbreaks of infection have been detected and have been declared “hot zones.” In official reports, and only in them – these neighborhoods have been placed under a supposed “quarantine,” although in fact they have been kept open to the free movement of people.
Fewer still are those who associate this miraculous drop in infections in Cuba with certain information – apparently unrelated – that have begun to appear on official sites, as if by chance. Thus, for example, there is already talk of returning to an opening to international tourism as soon as this coming June. The “closure” of the Varadero beach resort has been announced to nationals, and the airport in that town is also undergoing an accelerated renovation process. The Varadero hotel workers and those of the resorts at Jardines del Rey are being quietly reinstated to their respective positions.
Of course, to sell ourselves as a reliable tourist market, it is urgent to eliminate the Chinese flu as soon as possible, which is why the official treatment of the figures always has as its ally the naive tendency to confuse reality with wishes on the part of the average Cuban, together with the urgent need to generate family income in a country where no free food aid or monetary support has been distributed by the State during these months of unemployment.
Thus, step by step – or perhaps “without haste but without pause,” as the previous president once coined the phrase – in Cuba we are perhaps approaching the long-awaited “coup de grace” to COVID-19 that the hand-picked current president, Díaz-Canel, asked for, no matter how much a stubborn group of skeptics may distrust it.
The case could not be more sui generis: it would be the first time that a never-declared epidemic was eliminated from the national scene, not because of a revolutionary mass vaccination – such as those that once banished (it is fair to admit) many other diseases – but practically because of an “unwritten official decree.” And so it will be, because, whether we like it or not, certain “miracles” only happen under totalitarian regimes.
Translated by Norma Whiting