By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – The COVID-19 pandemic is out of control in Cuba, with between 600-1000 new cases every day, with deaths at an average of three per day. The Government had hoped that numbers would begin to drop in March but that wasn’t the case.
Mayari municipality, in the eastern Holguin province, is the second largest city in the region. During 2020, this highly infectious disease was efficiently kept in check, with just 14 positive cases being reported by the end of the year, three of which were native, and the rest were imported.
However, the situation so far in 2021 has been the exact opposite. During the “new normal”, we now have 137 confirmed cases in less than three months, most of which are native.
That’s to say, 91% of the cases that have been diagnosed in the almost three months of this year so far. The only two deaths in the region have also been recorded in this same period of time.
Do they differ from national statistics?
By the end of 2021, 12,056 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in Cuba during the 9 months of the pandemic, and there had been 146 fatalities. While in just two and a half months in 2021, these figures soared to 63,725 positive cases and 380 deaths.
That is to say, the average of positive cases per month between one year and the next has multiplied 16 times, while deaths have multiplied by 6. If we compare this to what is happening here in Mayari, we can see that the situation is a lot more critical than in the rest of the country, because the infection rate this year has been 25 times higher than last year and we’ve had deaths for the first time.
“People thought that Mayari locals were naturally immune, because it seemed that we all had the virus without even knowing it. People didn’t even look after themselves and visitors came, who were in very close contact with locals here, and they didn’t become infected,” Gustavo said, a retired nickel industry worker.
“But we were wrong… look now, it’s strange now for a day to go by without lots of positive cases in Mayari reported by Dr. Duran. It seems like this won’t stop until they start vaccinating everyone,” he said.
Israel, a roaming salesman of garlic said: “They need to open up travel again so that “mules” can go and buy medicines in Haiti and we can buy them from them here, or for family members to bring them from the US, because nothing is coming in with us entrenched here, nothing is being sold, and COVID-19 is still spreading, and we are dying alive without medicines and food.”
Ramon, a farmer, believes that “Havana opened up in way too much haste (it entered the “new” normal phase too early). The country soon opened up to tourists, and the little revenue hotels brought in then had to be spent on PCR tests and taking care of infected patients. Havana was still reporting cases and with active outbreaks, and they decided to speed things up. That was fatal.”
Meanwhile, Ursula (a housewife) believes that “the worst thing was getting rid of Dr. Duran’s daily briefing, because people would listen to it every day and be aware of how serious the situation was. By taking it off the air and only having a weekly briefing, and people traveling in and out of the country, things became relaxed. Now, they’re going crazy because they don’t know how to stop it,” she said.
What has happened for the situation to change?
There are many factors that could have influenced this boom in COVID-19 infections in Mayari and the country:
The winter season, with lower temperatures. The Government’s excessive confidence in its “exceptional” protocols led it to declare the “new normal” phase with haste in provinces that still had high levels of infection, including the capital. Similarly, there was an influx of visitors and travelers to all over the country.
As well as lockdown at home, to reduce public-sector costs, which has been hard to respect because of shortages of essential goods. Many doctor’s offices don’t have doctors working because they are on missions abroad.
It’s a fact that many Cubans prefer to take the risk and stay at home, hiding their symptoms from researchers. They fear being admitted into a hospital in deplorable conditions or forced into isolation centers. There are also serious medicine shortages in both, just like in the pharmacies.