As pandemic cases surge, Tropical Storm Elsa threatens

Photo by Johannes Plenio 

Cuba is facing the double threat of having to address surging pandemic levels, while preparing for the passage of damaging winds and rains, as Tropical Storm Elsa crosses central parts of the country. 

At press time, the Cuban government had announced that, given the proximity of the tropical storm, each of its provinces must prepare without delay, as if the storm was going to pass directly over them. Projections, as of 4 July, were that the tropical storm would affect “practically the entire country,” transiting over two days from the south, through Cuba’s central region, to a location on the north coast. 

The storm comes at a critical time when Cuba is suffering food shortages and a lack of foreign exchanges. Cuba’s President and ministers stressed the need to prepare well, and, immediately following the passage of the cyclone, recover agriculture. 

The threat posed by Elsa comes days after Cuba’s high-level working group on COVID-19 approved a new plan to address what it described as a complex epidemiological situation, the presence of “several highly contagious virus strains,” and “high levels of transmission of the disease.” 

In a new departure, the group which is led by Cuba’s President and the country’s Prime Minister, decided to move all provinces to a “community transmission phase,” entailing the introduction of new measures aimed at cutting the spread of the virus, reducing mobility, and applying tailored local health interventions. 

Speaking about this, Prime Minister Marrero, according to Cuba’s state media, said that this involves responses that correspond to the specific situation in each province, municipality, and locality. It will involve sending temporary work commissions to the most badly affected provinces: Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba, Pinar del Río, and Mayabeque. A similar approach, he said, was already underway in Havana. 

Each team, Marrero noted, will be chaired by the highest authorities of the Party and Government, consist of representatives of various ministries and other entities, and “have clear instructions to support, lead, and guide major issues in those territories.” 

In an indication of Cuban concern about variant strains being brought into the country, José Angel Portal, Cuba’s Minister of Health, said that additional measures were being introduced aimed at increasing sanitary control at the points of entry into the country, and ensuring compliance with the protocols that have been established. 

Speaking about progress on vaccinating the population, Portal noted that this was the key not only to containing transmission of the disease, but also to reducing the number of patients who reach serious and critical states and require hospitalisation. 

Cuban media reports indicate that, at the meeting, President Díaz-Canel told provincial governors that he would examine “the capacities that could be used to isolate contacts and suspects.” He also said he would immediately visit the provinces of Pinar del Río and Matanzas to consider the serious situation in each. Writing on Twitter, Cuba’s President noted, “If we do not accompany vaccination with compliance with the measures, it will be difficult to end the epidemic. The country needs to return to normality.” 

Although some 10.5% of Cuba’s population is now fully vaccinated, Cuba’s state media has quoted experts as warning that vaccination by itself will not be the solution to the pandemic. Rather, they said, it must be accompanied by effective measures including physical distancing, the use of masks, hand washing, the avoidance of high concentrations of people, observation of all public health protocols, and a reduction in mobility. 

The news followed an earlier announcement of an increase in deaths and a surge in active cases to the highest levels recorded since the pandemic began. Dr Francisco Durán, the National Director of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health, said that, as of 1 July, there had been 3,308 new positive cases recorded, including many minors and 20 deaths, the worst daily figures since the pandemic began. 

Separately, it was reported in Tribuna de la Habana that permission to leave Havana for work reasons has been halted, and the entry of Cuban travellers from Russia prohibited. Only ticketed passengers are now allowed to access José Martí International Airport, and a 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew on all movements in the city has been imposed. 

According to the Associated Press, Cuba has detected in at least one of its provinces, the Delta (Indian) variant of the coronavirus. The news agency quoted Ángel Batista, the Director of Health in Ciego de Ávila, as saying that recent samples confirm the presence of the variant. 

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