Cuba tightens COVID-19 measures as visitors fuel record contagion

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HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s leading epidemiologist said on Saturday the irresponsible end-of-year party, often with relatives overseas, fueled a surge in coronavirus infections and he warned of a crackdown on prevent the spread of disease.

At the same time, authorities in the capital announced new containment measures, including the suspension of interprovincial transport, cultural activities and the use of public spaces like the famous Malecon Boulevard at night.

While Cuban Communist authorities have been able to contain the country’s outbreak much better than most other Latin American governments, infections have more than doubled since they eased lockdown restrictions and reopened borders in November. .

Cubans from the large diaspora who have returned to visit, especially from the hard-hit United States, or those returning from shopping trips abroad, have spread the virus to family members and beyond by breaking quarantine , the government said.

Francisco Duran, head of epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health, resumed his daily televised press briefings this week and said on Saturday that Cuba had registered 365 new infections the day before.

That brought the total for the first eight days from 2021 to 1767, about 80% of which related to rule violations by travelers, and Cuba was on track to beat its December record of 3,675 cases.

“Legal action will be taken because we cannot give up the sacrifice of an entire country, of an entire people,” Duran said, referring in part to the lockdown which has exacerbated Cuba’s existing economic woes, leading to a contraction official rate of 11% of gross domestic product in 2020.

Since the start of the pandemic, Cuban authorities have fined citizens for improperly wearing their face masks in public or breaking other rules, even sentencing some to prison terms.

Cubans have complained that factors such as crowded public transport and hour-long queues at supermarkets due to food shortages make it difficult to practice social distancing.

Authorities dramatically reduced flights from the United States, Mexico, Panama, Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic earlier this year in a bid to contain the new surge in cases and to From Sunday, incoming travelers will be required to provide a negative passed test within 72 hours of arrival.

So far, the island nation with an aging population of 11 million has reported just 148 coronavirus deaths and 14,188 infections, about a tenth of the global average.

Report by Nelson Acosta in Havana; Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Edited by Matthew Lewis

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