Becoming a part of our everyday reality
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Our fears that coronavirus would be reported in Cuba any day now were finally confirmed on March 11th when reporters on the government’s nightly news program, read a press release from the Public Health Ministry, announcing three confirmed cases of the virus present in sick Italian tourists.
Another case was confirmed just 24 hours later… the first infected Cuban, this time in the Villa Clara province and without any connection to the first group of sick people.
Word quickly got around and the population’s concerns and stress, relating to the real fear of becoming victims of this pandemic, began. And it’s not at all unfounded given the fact that there are over 135,000 infected people in 126 countries, with over 5000 fatalities in countries such as China, Italy, Iran, Spain, South Korea, France, the US, the UK and Argentina.
Ironically, the first cases entered the country on a flight that flew into the capital the very same day that the Cuban Prime Minister and health authorities appeared on a Roundtable on national TV, explaining to the population that the entry of dangerous COVID-19 was imminent. As well as to deny accusations made by quite a few people on social media, that the Cuban government was covering up the existence of coronavirus cases in the country.
They also spoke about the economic impossibility of handing out much-needed masks to everyone to prevent infection; advising every family to make them at home with their own resources. This immediately sparked great criticism on social media and then, by pure coincidence, the Services Division at the Ministry of Domestic Trade began to produce them the next day at Atelier workshops in every municipality so they could be distributed among the population.
Ever since then, there has been fear on Mayari’s streets (just like there is in all of Cuba) of becoming infected. Reinforced here by the detection of several potential cases who have already been put into quarantine and are being diagnosed in Holguin city, some 90 kms away. Those who are Cuban have been sent to the Military Hospital and foreigners have been sent to “El Cocal” Tourist Resort in the outskirts of the city.
These potential victims of COVID-19 include a woman living in the Chavaleta neighborhood, who arrived in Cuba on March 9th, coming from Italy where she was visiting her daughter, and just happened to be on the same flight as the three sick Italians who came. However, close sources to the family say that the illness hasn’t been confirmed yet and she was put into quarantine without presenting any symptoms, just as a precaution.
The foreign cases include two Russians who are working on the Lidio Ramon Perez Electric Plant, who presented some symptoms of the virus and are being kept under close supervision, staying at the city’s El Bitiri motel. Service staff are keeping a close lookout for any sign of the illness and will inform health authorities as soon as anything happens. I’m guessing there is already a quarantine room that has been set up in recent hours in the rural Colorado neighborhood, but it hasn’t given away the cause of the alleged infection.
However, the most worrying thing amid all of this paranoia continues to be the lack of palliative medicine in pharmacies, forming part of a shortages crisis that has already been going on for more than three years. Also, limitations on the purchase or manufacture of masks, along with the friendly nature of the Cuban people who normally practice a lot of physical contact, even with strangers, are factors which increase the risk of the virus spreading and force us to abruptly change social habits that are deeply-rooted.
During these winter months, symptoms of COVID-19 can also be confused with the common cold and other allergies, so it is expected that from now on, given the warning because of alleged cases in the region and confirmed cases nationwide, there will be plenty of people who potentially have coronavirus, and many others who are fearful of catching it. For now, seeing locals with their faces covered as a protective measure is becoming more and more frequent as the hours pass by.