As Cubans let guard down, coronavirus rebounds slightly

HAVANA (Reuters) – Just 10 days ago, Cuba did not register new coronavirus cases for the first time since the outbreak began, strengthening its reputation as a textbook for disasters such as hurricanes and now the terrifying pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: People walk past an image of late Cuban President Fidel Castro, who is concerned about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Havana, Cuba, on July 19, 2020. REUTERS / Alexandre Meneghini / File Photo

On Thursday, top epidemiologist Francisco Duran abused the Cubans in his daily briefing for knocking down their guard too quickly, leading to several new areas of focus for local broadcasting.

"People hold different types of gatherings without considering distance and often without using a face mask," said the normally meek Duran, visibly irritated.

He reported nine new cases on the last day after the daily number had risen to 37 in the past week.

Cuba is one of the few Latin American countries that have managed to stem the new corona virus that continues to devastate regional powers like Brazil and Mexico.

Measures such as the strict isolation of the sick and their contacts have been attributed to the country's free, community-based health system, which have enabled it to keep the number of 87 deaths below 2,600 – and no new deaths in the past 18 days.

In the past six weeks, the authorities have loosened the restrictions so that restaurants, bars, hotels, beaches and pools can be reopened and public transport can be resumed, albeit with reduced capacity and strict hygiene measures.

But Duran suspected that many Cubans had become negligent with social distancing rules and other recommendations, which gave the false sense of security that the communist island was practically coronavirus-free.

A recent outbreak occurred at a gathering of Afro-Cuban Santeria religion supporters in the city of Bauta, southwest of Havana, officials said.

"Every little summit underscores a lack of discipline … which leads to stricter measures," said Duran.

The authorities have put Bauta under a stricter quarantine than the original nationwide ban. They closed most of the shops and allowed only one person per household to shop or send limited grocery packages to residents' homes.

Some new cases also come from abroad, which highlights the dilemma that Cuba and other tourism-dependent nations face when deciding to fully open them.

Some Caribbean island states, such as Jamaica and the Bahamas, have had to withdraw somewhat in some cases when reopening after rising again and have introduced stricter entry requirements.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting from Nelson Acosta; Edited by Tom Brown

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