"Nothing is Going to Happen Here," They Say in Artemisa About the Pandemic

Buying soap, chicken, rice or the few medicines that are left in the pharmacy has become essential for many and they crowd together in long lines to do it. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillén, Candelaria (Artemisa), 29 March 2020  — With three cases positive for Covid-19, ten suspected cases and a total of 1,077 people under surveillance, Artemisa, an agricultural region bordering Havana, is facing the pandemic with concern.

Cuban authorities have called for “responsible lines” and “social seclusion,” as part of the strategies to stop the spread of the virus on the Island. But in the streets of Candelaria, a municipality of Artemisa, few abide by those measures.

The chronic shortages are added to the exceptional nature of the situation and residents are very anxious about being able to buy basic products. Buying soap, chicken, rice, or the few drugs left in the pharmacy has become paramount, given the increasing likelihood of a mandatory quarantine.

“People are more concerned with starving in their homes than with the coronavirus,” says a retired woman who stood in a long line this Thursday to buy chicken at a Candelaria store. In the same line waiting to enter the market, another woman said: “Among Cubans it’s OK, you have to avoid contact with those who come from outside.”

Getting water in sufficient quantities to supply basic needs is another of the challenges that keep Candelarians busy these days. With continuous supply problems for two months, the situation has become more dramatic these days and the expense has increased considerably.

“The water comes and goes, they fix the well for two days and it breaks again. With the hygiene that must be maintained, this is unsustainable,” says Iraida, a residents of the community who waits with dozens of people to access the hose from a water truck that will fill some tanks and buckets for her home.

But commerce is not the only tense issue in the country’s emergency situation. The transportation of passengers and goods in the most important agricultural center for the Cuban capital is also plagued with fears and the measures to restrict mobility that have been taken in recent days.

Agustín is one of the few private carriers still covering the inter-municipal route that connects the province’s capital with Candelaria and San Cristóbal; the others have stopped driving for fear of fines and contagion.

“People have not stopped traveling, many work outside the municipality, and the stops and terminals are still full,” he says. Some people travel to the city of Artemis where there are more stores, in search of variety to stock up.

“To close off that communication between the municipalities and the center, would be to condemn us to not having new supplies,” he says. Despite being an eminently agricultural area, the residents of the interior towns need to travel to obtain products such as soaps, detergent and meat.

Lack of information also does a lot of damage. More than a few people insist that “nothing is going to happen here,” others downplay the severity of the disease on the island while comparing national figures with statistics from the United States, which the Cuban official press has analyzed to the limit.

Others believe that Artemis is separate territory and is governed by its own rules. “Are the Roundtable [TV show] measures only for Havana?” asks Martha Rodríguez, as she tries to keep her place in line to buy chicken. “Here people go around as if it’s nothing and the police are more concerned about people not taking photos and videos for Facebook than about keeping their distance,” she says.

Behind the doors of the Candelaria Polyclinic the reality is different. The pressures from the Ministry of Public Health to enforce the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the virus — limit direct contact with people who may be infected — along with poor working conditions, are especially stressful for public health workers these days.

Natalia García, a doctor in Comprehensive General Medicine from the municipality of Candelaria, says that these are very difficult days. “Not everyone has become aware of the responsibility we have to prevent the spread of this pandemic,” she details. “I spent days without being able to sleep, dreaming that I was getting sick; now I don’t even stress and I take care of myself but if an infected patient arrives…,” she comments with some resignation.

The long and haggard faces of the doctors are the reflection of the work of the last days, nobody speaks, nobody confirms or denies any information, while the rumors and fictional stories around the “possible infected” increase every day.

“Since the presence of the first positive case on the Island was announced, we have been working very hard, the nurse and I do not sleep, a traveler comes to me every day and monitoring must begin,” says García. “There is very little health education, there are many who take care of themselves, but the vast majority do not,” he regrets.

On the other hand, several of the people who own and work at the tourist rental houses located on the road to Soroa have decided to remain in voluntary quarantine after receiving their last customers.

“We decided not to go out to avoid contagion and because we have grandchildren to take care of,” say Jorge and María, a couple who manage a hostel surrounded by orchids and with a spectacular view of the mountains, but which is now closed. No economic income is worth a life.


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