Spike in COVID-19 cases in Havana sets back national recovery

Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, has said that the extent to which the country can move forward to the first phase of post COVID-19 recovery will depend on greater cooperation, support and responsibility from the people of Havana.

According to Cubadebate, a 30 May meeting of the government committee regularly reviewing progress heard that 111 new positive cases were reported in the period after 19 May, all of which were in Havana.

The report said that local transmission began in the district of Centro Habana and was then spread via contact at the La Época store in the same part of the city.

Commenting on the circumstances, Cuba’s President said that it was evident that they had occurred due to ‘breakdowns in the actions of certain institutions and links in the chain of those confronting COVID-19’.

Díaz-Canel said that the two days prior to the meeting had been worse than the previous twenty-one, both for Havana and for the country, with the province of Havana having become the last place and epicentre of what remains of the pandemic in the country.

Given this trend, he said, the “entire strategy” that Government had been preparing for the recovery stage of COVID- 19, could not yet be applied. “Until we are very sure that there is precise control of the epidemic, in order to move to a phase where we treat the disease as being endemic, we are not going to destroy everything that has been working successfully in these times”, he was reported to have said.

Even the first phases of Cuba’s planned recovery, he said, ‘continue to require that physical distance; hygiene and disinfection measures; rigor in monitoring symptoms; screening and self-screening; as well as the treatment of suspected cases, the ill and their contacts, will remain incorporated into the life of the country’.

Reports earlier in the week had indicated that Cuba was beginning to consider strategies for an eventual return to normality as the incidence of COVID-19 began to decline. Cuba’s state media quoted the President as telling ministers and experts that the signs were that the country was “reaching a moment of less complexity”.

As of the end of 29 May, Cuba’s Ministry of Health said that since the pandemic reaches the country Cuba had recorded in total 2,025 cases of COVID-19 from which 1,795 patients have recovered and 83 have died. Of these some 145 individuals at present remain in hospitals for clinical epidemiological surveillance while another 1,617 were being monitored in their homes. There are 11.3m Cubans living in Cuba.

Separately, Cuban scientists have suggested that it will be necessary to plan for a recurrence of the virus in mid- November. A lengthy article also appearing in Cubadebate suggested that Cuban scientific modelling indicated that COVID-19 would be endemic in Cuba – as in much of the rest of the world – for some time to come and that a fresh outbreak of the disease is expected at that time.

The online platform reported that mathematical models developed by a group of Cuban scientists predict that COVID- 19 was originally intended to be declared endemic on the island as of 30 May, while Havana, the epicentre of the epidemic in Cuba, would continue to report active cases until 10 July. The same report said that Cuba’s health system is capable of supporting this situation.

It was, however, noted that in future the response will have to be decentralised and each province will have to adopt and deliver the treatment protocols and apply them efficiently. The article also quoted officials as saying that that at some stage, with the opening of international flights and arrivals from Cubans living overseas, particularly in the US, management of the pandemic will become more complex.

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