We Shouldn’t Be Waiting for a Vaccine to Rescue Us
By Bryan Chester Campbell Romero*
HAVANA TIMES – Cuba has been under a strict lockdown to try and stop the spread of COVID-19, ever since late March 2020. With the sudden appearance of this new coronavirus, social distancing measures needed to be implemented to try and cut chains of transmission, thus allowing the health system to continue working and to win some time in order to develop new treatment protocols and potential vaccines.
After six long months of lockdown, conventional wisdom has established that the only way to recover basic normalcy in Cuban lives is with a vaccine. The result of this focus has been a three-phase reopening plan. It is based on the premise that Cuba could prevent COVID-19 from becoming an endemic disease.
Some of Cuba’s provinces are thus far quite successful in containing the spread of this disease. Albeit, Havana remains in an unstable situation with its complex demographic situation. September brought along a new lockdown, with curfew included, for Havana residents. Consequently, this meant tougher restrictions and sky-high fines for people who violate them.
Furthermore, daily news reports of cases continue to be alarming and projections identify peak times in the near future. In the meantime, the impact of lockdown on Cuban people’s lives and what is left of the national economy, is taking a great toll.
An educational process and honest dialogue
Faced with this reality, we have to take intelligent and selective action when it comes to implementing public policy. It isn’t wise for the country to map a situation in which it is sustaining a great number of people out of work, dreaming of the State’s intervention and tourism’s recovery to pick up the economy again once this all ends. An educational process and honest dialogue needs to begin between Cubans, about what is actually possible.
I don’t think the possibility of a vaccine is as certain as many people think. We need a vaccine that is highly efficient, offering long-term protection. Nonetheless, the logistics of development, trials, manufacturing and distribution is extremely complicated, especially amid a global pandemic. The chaotic example of the H1N1 vaccine and its distribution a few years ago is still fresh. It can help us understand how difficult this process will be for a respiratory disease.
Knowing this, wouldn’t it be better to prepare the country for the inevitable reality of having to live with the new coronavirus going around for at least another 12 months? Should Cubans continue to invest time in curfews, paying fines and social distancing for God knows how long? Is it time to prepare for this new “normal” that we so desperately long for?
A new “normal” would imply a high dose of civic spirit and efficiency. A difficult task knowing what Cuban society is like. This doesn’t mean to say we can go back to our pre-COVID-19 lives, on the contrary. This new “normal” should give us a renewed sense of the importance of building something new.
We need selective, realistic public policies to replace never-ending lockdowns, which respond to the different realities in our country. Chronic problems that must be addressed.
Plenty of questions
How can families living in critical housing conditions, read here: corridors, dilapidated tenements, etc., practice social distancing? Can people without running water keep places clean to stop the virus from spreading? Can we set productive forces loose and allow Cubans to become somewhat financially stable under these conditions? Is a vaccine the only thing that will allow us to open our borders and get commercial flights back in the skies?
What options are there for people who haven’t been able to practice their faith in social gatherings for over six months? Does anybody doubt that this academic year is lost for most primary school students? What solutions are there for people who need medical attention. Out-patient appointments and certain procedures aren’t available until regions reach phase 1 of the reopening process, and in some cases even phase 3? Do they need to wait until any non-COVID-19-related health problem becomes an emergency to be seen?
A mid-term plan
I am speaking as a young, relatively healthy person with no underlying health condition that can compromise my immune system. I fully understand this isn’t the reality for many people: young people and old people alike. Therefore, I say that restrictions should be selective. Keeping the capital closed in this way affects those who need medical assistance the most. They are the ones who depend on social security or State benefits. If the capital doesn’t generate revenue, it has nothing to give back out and help those who most need it.
A clear mid-term plan needs to be drawn out. One that allows us to coexist, within reasonable bounds, with the active circulation of COVID-19. People will continue to go out on the street and try to work, even if it’s illegally. You can’t ask people to choose between catching COVID-19 and going hungry. It’s an impossible decision. We should be thinking about these and other questions when the beginning of October is around the corner. And the decision of whether the lockdown in Havana needs to be extended.
* Bryan Chester Campbell Romero is a Philosophy graduate from Havana University. He currently contributes to different publications, focusing on Latin American and Caribbean affairs.