By Ronal Quinones
HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban government has just announced its national plan for the next stage of the pandemic, which is broken down into three phases, each of which have different restrictions that will gradually be lifted.
First of all, I was surprised that they spoke about it because nothing is kicking into gear for at least another week yet. I don’t know whether the government was trying to sound out the population and opposition’s opinions so they can tweak the plan, but I can’t think of any other reason why it hasn’t come into immediate effect.
Reported cases of COVID-19 continue to remain low, which is something that still surprises me given the large number of crowds all over Havana, every day.
I have no basis to cast doubt on these figures’ veracity, I would like to think that the government is being 100% transparent in this regard. However, something strange is happening, because it isn’t normal for such a contagious virus not to spread at an alarming rate here, where social distancing guidelines are hardly being respected.
Either the Cuban people are naturally immune to the disease, or the virus isn’t as contagious as it seemed to be, or asymptomatic carriers aren’t passing it on to many others. I’m not a scientist, but something strange is definitely happening here. Nevertheless, I’m glad it is, for whatever the reason.
I won’t include monitoring here, which the government has been brandishing with a great deal of pride, but nobody has come into my home for over a month, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
As your ordinary Joe, I miss public transport. I never thought that I would utter these words, but I miss those vilified buses, and everything seems to indicate that it will be a while before they are up and running again, at least in Havana.
According to the government’s announcement, public buses are not included in the first phase, so those of us without private transport will still be limited in terms of movement for a few more weeks. I say weeks, if things were to carry on as they are, but another outbreak could stop it completely.
Most recent cases have been confirmed at State institutions, and it’s a great cause for concern because they are directly linked to centers that have direct contact with the public. If hospitals and labs were COVID-19 hotspots previously, now there are new hotspots at stores dedicated to e-commerce.
This means that the virus is being delivered to your home, as well as people infected infecting their own relatives, and them their own contacts, if any of them are to stand in line… This is basically why I think that something strange is happening here, either that or we have been blessed by Divine Grace.
Going back to what the future holds for us, one phrase that really terrifies me is, “It’s here to stay.” Of course, positive things have also come as as result of the pandemic, such as cracking down on crime, online stores, national production gaining a new impetus etc., but these go hand-in-hand with masks, police abuse or transport restrictions sticking around, and that just can’t be.
In terms of transport, there is talk about them running at 50% capacity, but if they didn’t meet demand when they were at full capacity, running half-empty will make traveling by this means a real odyssey.
We also have to see if private collective taxi drivers are able to pick up their business again and drive with less passengers. If the battle against them jacking up prices has always been because it wasn’t worth their while, things will be a lot worse for them now.
Another thing that struck me about the announcement was what the government said about tourism. They’ll send foreigners far away, so they wouldn’t infect anyone, and Cubans will stay at other installations, but hotel prices in the capital, for example, are out of any Cuban’s reach.
For example, I don’t know how the Hotel Nacional is going to bring in revenue, if it costs over 100 USD to stay a night there, as well as other hotels such as Habana Libre, Capri, etc.
It’s not like the rest will bring in returns, because revenue will significantly decline if they only operate at half-capacity.
Plus, there’s the issue of measures that need to be taken at these places. If I am paying hundreds of dollars to stay a couple of nights at a hotel in Varadero, for example, I’m not spending that money to be restricted inside, without being able to swim in the swimming pool at a certain time, or to sit far away from my family. They need to clarify this a little more, because I really don’t know if people will be interested in investing in something that will only bring more unease than comfort.
The same thing goes for international tourism, although generally-speaking, it’s couples that are traveling alone, who aren’t especially interested in the swimming pool and spend most of their time reading and sunbathing. In this case, they will miss day excursions the most, which will be limited to the keys where they are staying, according to the announcement.
I believe that the majority of international tourists come to Cuba so that they can have some kind of contact (even if its minimal) with the real Cuba, and this is completely off the cards with new tourism restrictions.
In short, there are still many things that need to be explained about the phases that lie on the horizon, which will be implemented equally across every region, which will also mean that Havana will be half-isolated because there’s no point in getting back to normal in Las Tunas, if their citizens go visit the capital, become infected and then cause a new outbreak back home, for example.
We’ll have to wait and see how each of these phases is put into action.