HAVANA, March 20 (AFP) Cuba announced Friday the closure for one month of its borders to non-residents due to the coronavirus pandemic, after trying until the last moment to preserve its tourist activity, the driving force of the island.
“We are going to regulate entry to the country’s borders, only allowing residents to enter Cuba,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced on television.
The latest official assessment shows 21 cases including one death, that of an Italian tourist, and 716 suspected cases.
“We guarantee the return to Cuba of Cubans who is abroad, the right of foreigners who are here to return to their countries, and we maintain economic activity,” he added.
The measure will come into force on Tuesday and for 30 days, with the exit from the territory still possible, but only for the approximately 60,000 tourists currently present in Cuba, including more than 5,000 French.
Prime Minister Manuel Marrero says almost all of the hotels and most restaurants on the island will close, an unprecedented move in the country, but ships and freight planes will continue to arrive on the island, which imports 80 % of what it consumes.
With tourism as an economic engine and crucial source of foreign exchange (3.3 billion dollars in 2018), Cuba, which has suffered for a few years from a resumption of American sanctions against it, has until now refused to apply any restriction at its borders.
This policy clashed with neighbouring countries and drew criticism from a part of the population, worried in this country of which 20% of the inhabitants are over 60 years old, where soap is often lacking and water cuts are frequent.
“As responsible behaviour to protect us from contagion, we call for reducing social interactions,” said the head of state. “People at high risk must stay at home, avoid close contact” and “we must remove the effusive greetings, kisses and hugs”.
The major sports and cultural gatherings had already been suspended for a few days. This time, discos, theme parks, theatres and cabarets will have to close.
In this economy of socialist orientation, these measures will hit the Cuban private sector (13% of the workforce), already affected by the American sanctions. But the authorities have announced that he will benefit from a moratorium on his taxes.
Employees forced to stop working because of this crisis will have 100% of their guaranteed salary the first month, 60% thereafter.
However, the schools will remain open, a decision defended by Prime Minister Manuel Marrero: “Where will these children be most secure, if not in schools? “