By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Aside from the real danger that the new Coronavirus will continue to spread across the entire country, and the new actions announced by the government on March 20th and 24th, life is still carrying on way too normally on Cuban streets, at least here in Mayari.
While it’s true that you see more and more people wearing masks on the street, there are still plenty of horse-powered carts packed with passengers squished together, without any protective gear. And you can see way too many people out on the street, although the majority are walking around trying to find the basics they need.
Even though the national government has advised otherwise, only a few places are being stocked up and not with a whole lot. The reality today is how things have been the past two years… there isn’t a stable food market and when things are brought in, everybody goes so there are inescapable lines because the risk of infection is just a “maybe”, but the need to eat and wash oneself is a “definite and immediate” need.
For example, packs of crackers were put on sale at the store on Monday, and there was a great commotion. Likewise, yesterday, cooking oil was put on sale at one retail point, the Tienda Panamericana. I preferred to buy it for 10 pesos above the retail price from a reseller so I wouldn’t have to get caught up in the crowd. “We can’t gamble with this disease, I’m already 72 years old,” Gregorio, a retired salesman said.
Another story that caught my attention was something my sister told me. She had gone to the Mayari Polyclinic yesterday for her shift there as a doctor and she had to wait over 10 minutes to get inside because of the huge line to wash your hands with chlorine solution. A huge crowd of workers and the general population to wash their hands in a single sink for everyone.
It’s ironic because creating crowds can be a lot worse than not washing your hands. The solution would be to place several sinks so there isn’t a line, but these things are done without too much thought, just to abide by government regulations.
The population is demanding that products be in stock at every neighborhood bodega store so that they can avoid unnecessary travel, hoarding and long lines. However, according to an employee at the municipal Trade Company, who preferred to remain anonymous, “the company can’t distribute products to units in every neighborhood because we don’t have transport or fuel, right now.”
“Normally, over 50% of unrationed products sold at these units are transported by managers however they can, “inventing”, finding ways that border on criminal a lot of the time. That’s the honest truth. The government has given its national order, but how do we implement it? That is the question,” he said.
In the same vein, people were able to buy 3 lbs of potatoes a few days ago and as soon as the truck arrived, people forgot all about the risk of catching Coronavirus. They hadn’t even started unloading sacks and there was already a long line. People hadn’t forgotten parasols to shade themselves from the sun, but they didn’t have masks to prevent catching Coronavirus.
The Cuban people’s risk perception might be skewed because of just how confident our leaders were in the beginning and they communicated this to us, wanting to take advantage of the current global situation to boost tourism, claiming that Cuba was prepared and under control, and giving over-exaggerated hopes that Interferon was a drug that could beat this virus, without saying it in these exact words.
Add to the mix the fact that no leader has made a public appearance wearing a mask, not even at press conferences to speak about the pandemic. Even Jose Ramon Machado Ventura – perhaps the oldest Cuban leader, who will turn 90 years old in October – went all over Matanzas to announce the new restrictive measures, surrounded by officials, and none of them were wearing a mask. He gave our grandparents an awful example by doing this, who are being told to stay at home because they are the most vulnerable age group.
Luckily, there has been a lot of success on social media in pressuring the government to take more drastic measures. The decision to close down schools, to make anyone coming into the country observe strict quarantine for 14 days and stopping tourism have been well-received and much-needed measures. Just as activating the Civil Defense Act has been.
However, although indiscipline continues to some extent, lines continue and the need to find our food for the day – which continues to be a difficult task -, might be more imposing than the fear of catching CoVID-19, at least we are taking more preventative measures. Let’s hope that we can come out the other end of this epidemic, which has taken so many lives across the world and which has already infected 119 persons in Cuba.