With the Pandemic at Its Height in Cuba, the Opening of the Borders is Announced for November 15

The government, in need of foreign exchange, has announced the reopening of borders for the high season. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid,6 September 2021 — The official press announced this Sunday the next border reopening, which will begin “gradually” on November 15, although the staggered process will only apply, apparently, to the national market. Last year, on the same date, the country was opened to tourism but had to close it again after two months due to the increase in covid-19.

The Ministry of Tourism expects that entry protocols to the country will be relaxed in view of the beginning of the high season in Cuba and will focus on monitoring symptomatic patients and taking temperatures. This type of control is hardly useful at present, since the main countries that send tourists to the Island have massively vaccinated their population, which greatly reduces the chances of their suffering the symptoms of covid 19. The exception is except Russia, where the percentage vaccinated barely reaches 25.5%.

More useful could be another of the measures announced by the ministry, such as the recognition of vaccination certificates, although it has not yet been clarified whether that will be a requirement. The need to show a PCR test upon entry will also be eliminated, although “random diagnostic tests” will be done that the note does not specify, but which could be antigen tests. This type of screening test has proven particularly useful among symptomatic patients, but rarely among those without any signs of infection.

“The opening of the domestic tourist market will also begin gradually, in correspondence with the epidemiological indicators of each territory,” the note indicates, in which it is reported that the staggered openings will only apply to Cubans. If confirmed, it would be the umpteenth time that the population has been relegated to tourist apartheid.

At the beginning of July, the Government announced a ban on travel to Varadero for Cuban citizens, while foreigners continued to have the doors open to them. The situation was reminiscent of the one that existed on the island until 2008, when Raúl Castro authorized Cubans to enter hotels. Until that year, Cubans could only enter hotels as workers serving tourists.

In 2019, before the pandemic hit, only 22% of overnight stays in Cuban hotels were made by national tourists, while 78% were foreigners. Internal tourism is, therefore, a minority and its expenditure is negligible in relation to visitors from abroad, hence the Government makes every efforts to recover the latter.

With the economic crisis harassing the Government and a population increasingly prone to protesting in the street, spurred by the collapse of the country, the authorities make a decision that could be hasty, since Cuba continues at a peak of the pandemic and this Sunday once again registered very worrying data.

After several days of decreasing cases, according to official data, this Saturday 9,221 new covid-19 infections were detected. In addition, 86 people died, including a pregnant woman and a 13-year-old girl, which denotes a stagnation in the figures that does not allow us to be optimistic in thinking about the reopening.

The authorities are confident that vaccination will allow an adequate picture to be reached in the next two months, but the truth is that since immunization began in May, barely 36% of the population has been completely vaccinated. At that rate, it is difficult to think that by mid-November the 70% that was initially expected to achieve group immunity would be reached, and even more so now, that the Delta variant has led to a reconsideration of this data and a raising of the required immunity level to 90% of the population vaccinated.

Tourism is one of the few economic sectors that provide large amounts of foreign currency to the Government and over which it has control, unlike remittances. The drop that this key area has suffered so far this year is around 95%. In the first half of 2021, only 141,316 visitors were received, which is seven times fewer than in the same period of the previous year, which was already very bad (986,673).

The economist Pedro Monreal warned on his networks last Friday that in order to equal the disastrous figure of 1,085,920 visitors in 2020, 944,604 visitors should arrive in the second half of 2021. In 2016 and 2017, the best years of tourism in Cuba, more than 4.5 million travelers came to the Island.

The need for the Government, therefore, to reopen the borders is great, but it can be counterproductive with such negative health data. Elías Amor, a Cuban-resident economist in Spain, compares the situation between the two countries, since Europe also has a high dependence on this sector. In it, foreign tourism reopened in the summer of 2020, still in a very restrictive framework, and even so, a severe second wave of covid-19 was experienced in October, when the high season ends.

This year, when the Spanish population has been vaccinated well above 50% (it reached 70% on August 31), tourism has become even more open, although conditional on vaccination passports or PCR tests and the closure of borders to certain countries.

“Summer, which is the high season in Spain, France or Italy, has behaved reasonably, with a certain recovery in activity focused, above all, on national tourism. In other words, the Spanish have been the ones who have made the hotel business work on the Canarian or Balearic beaches in 2021. International tourism remains below the 2019 figures,” explains the expert.

Amor, who doubts that foreigners want to return to the island in such a complex context and points to the residual of the national market in Cuba, suggests the possibility that the authorities seek to capture remittances from Cubans who live abroad and wish to pay for a vacation to their families, something that would depend on the “gradualness” with which the internal borders are opened.


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