By Ronal Quinones
HAVANA TIMES – Just like the rest of the world, Cuba is currently suffering the beating of the COVID-19 outbreak, the pandemic of this century which has taken thousands of lives and is threatening to take a million worldwide.
However, unlike most other countries, Cuba could have prevented these unpleasant times, if it weren’t for its leaders’ pigheadedness, arrogance and lack of foresight.
As an archipelago, Cuba has a great advantage in this situation and has something 90% of the other countries don’t have: no land borders. The damned condition of being surrounded by water on all sides, as Virgilio Pinera would once say, played in our favor this time, because it’s a lot easier to control what enters the country by air or sea than it is to control what enters on foot.
There’s a good reason why the vast majority of places that still haven’t reported any cases of COVID-19 are islands found in the Indian and Pacific oceans, which closed their air borders to prevent infection.
Cuba could have done the same thing, and there were plenty of voices all over the world and even on the island, demanding this. A campaign was even launched on social media to try and convince the government, but it fell on deaf ears, like they normally do.
“We are different, we have the best health system in the world,” etc. were the slogans that were repeated over and over again whenever there was talk about closing our borders. They even dug their heels in when there was a discussion about closing schools. “Classes have never been suspended in Cuba,” was a headline in the newspaper at that time. Arrogance here, there and everywhere.
Those who had an ace up their sleeve, as we say in fine Cuban, said that blocking air entry and departures was economic suicide because tourism is crucial for this country – and they were right about that.
However, they should have had a cooler head and sat down with economists and health professionals to calculate what the real gains and losses would have been.
According to what we found out days later, when taking drastic measures was already inevitable, there were 30,000 tourists in Cuba, distributed in state-run and private facilities.
Thinking hypothetically, let’s say that every one of these tourists would have ended up spending 1000 USD in Cuba (I’m counting children in this sum too), that would mean the country would have lost out on 30 million USD. I’m not taking into account tourists who would have come later because, as we’ve already seen, the entire world is on lockdown and tourism is dead.
Which means that we are talking about Cuba losing 30 million USD at that time, if it had closed its airports. Anyone with two fingers knows that we have spent a lot more since airports closed down (March 24th) up until the present day.
Every COVID-19 testing kit costs 1 USD (let’s put it at the most ridiculous price), every patient admitted into an isolation center or hospital because of COVID-19 costs another 10 USD per day (assuming a low price again), every employee at home without contributing to the State costs 30 USD per month (if the average monthly salary is 700 Cuban pesos), the millions of Cubans at home using electricity is another 10 USD per month, on average, and is totally unsustainable for the National Electricity System in the long haul.
With these figures alone, we’re already way over 30 million USD, which is apparently what Cuba gained by delaying the lockdown on its borders. However, we also have to add the amount spent on equipment and reagents for tests (which are even more expensive because of the embargo), the millions of liters of gasoline for ambulances, food delivery transport to state homes and transport for employees, the losses as a result of changing the social purpose of many workplaces which are now sewing masks or just closed, and all of the logistics that a high-risk patient implies.
If everything could be boiled down to these numbers, we would be left with pure economics, and there would be losses, of course, but it wouldn’t be anything like what is happening elsewhere in the world.
However, the losses that are irreparable, human lives, already figure at around 40. This is a small figure in comparison to many other countries, it’s true, but the life of one Cuban is worth more than any dollar that the government wanted to guarantee by keeping tourism going.
Those who clung on to doctrine more than reality in the flesh which was sadly showing the rest of the world the devastating effects of Coronavirus, have put the lives of 11 million people at risk, in a country where the population is greatly aged, the main breeding ground for this deadly virus.
The ideal thing would have been for the virus to have never stepped foot in Cuba, and there was an opportunity to stop it from doing so, but the government let that opportunity slip them by.
All we can do now is pray for a vaccine to come as soon as possible, because with it being highly contagious and the lack of risk perception among many groups of Cuba’s population, it seems like we will all succumb to it at some point, in one way or another. I hope I’m wrong.