By Alberto N Jones
HAVANA TIMES – In mid-December 2019, global media expressed concern about a respiratory infection with a high death rate. It had already infected thousands of people in Wuhan, China.
In early January 2020, a visitor traveling from China arrived in California and fell ill a few days later. He was admitted into hospital and died. He became the first person in the US to be diagnosed with COVID-19.
Governors in New York, New Jersey and California asked for airports to be shut down, but President Trump refused to do this, claiming that the virus would disappear on its own as if by magic.
My limited knowledge about virology and disastrous infectious diseases, studied in the mid-1990s, told me that we should be worried. Instead of writing premature articles without knowing anything about the virus, I limited myself to writing “posts” or notices on Facebook, asking Cuba to close down its borders to international flights. This was at a time when the tourism board and Cuban press were promoting the island as a safe tourist destination.
Doing this, I was unfairly accused, on social media, by defenders of the Cuban government of trying to sabotage the tourism industry. They claimed I was an undercover agent for the enemy and trying to provoke hunger and hardship in Cuba.
In early March, the first positive case of COVID-19 in Cuba was reported in an Italian tourist. After hearing the news, I expressed my absolute trust in the Ministry of Public Health to keep the outbreak in check and eradicate the virus. This due to my experience in dealing with epizootiological outbreaks in the past. I wrote a proviso, saying I thought it was essential that Cuba drastically limit people’s non-essential movements and that they stay at home for 4-6 weeks, with supplies being sent to their homes.
I proposed that Cuban Customs lift all restrictions. Suspending volume limits, high duty taxes and arbitrary seizures of imports that Cubans living abroad send over. This would have allowed thousands of visitors to saturate the market with hundreds of thousands of tons of food, medicines and supplies. But I had no luck.
I suggested that they introduce a coastal trade service that would allow Cubans living abroad to buy and send large volumes of food, medicines and other supplies in 50-gallon fiber-cement barrels with a capacity for sending 250 pounds to their families in Cuba. The products could be purchased in Panama or the Bahamas, like millions of emigres from the Caribbean and Latin America do.
This fell on deaf ears. Instead, some products sold via the rations booklet were transferred to hard currency CUC stores, and later to MLC (USD) stores instead. This has only increased crowds, lines, indiscipline. They tried to keep growing shortages under control by deploying the police, despite possible clashes between them and the general public.
However, infection rates remained low despite this. The pandemic disappeared from most of Cuba’s large cities, which reduced the chances of the virus mutating and becoming endemic.
In May, the Cuban press announced that the country would reopen to tourism, so I resorted back to posting on Facebook and Twitter. I called out suggested tourists only be allowed to arrive into Cayo Coco and Cayo Largo airports, which were perfectly equipped and separated from the main island. This allowing tourists to be isolated, tested and, if the results came back negative, they could continue on to their final destination.
It was decided that all national airports would reopen to tourism, except for Jose Marti International in Havana. A month later, the pandemic had reared its ugly head again across the country. This led to the highest infection rate, number of hospital admissions and deaths so far. The press continually blamed undisciplined tourists, even when the majority of infections revealed that they were community-based.
To date, the pandemic remains out of control, with the removal of several innocent public health officials. In reality, they have nothing to do with the shortages, crowds and lines, where people become infected and spread the virus.
Some people minimized the spread, arguing that the US has the most infections and deaths across the world, without having any supply problems. However, they are ignoring the lack of discipline that is inherent in the US people. Likewise, the false constitutional rights that allow them to do whatever they want.
Then there was the nonsense promoted during Donald Trump’s presidency. Some state and local officials, religious fanatics, the far-Right, denied the existence of Covid-19, and refuse to be vaccinated. They allow and promote political rallies, sports activities and celebrations that millions of people attend without masks. These are just some of the causes and effects of how the pandemic is unfolding in the US.
Meanwhile, the persistence of Covid-19 in Cuba has more to do with socio-economic and administrative problems than epidemiological shortcomings. I believe that mass vaccination and an improvement in supplies would be enough to eradicate Covid-19 on the island.