HAVANA, May 15th Cuba is preparing to reopen its airports as early as July if COVID-19 cases, which the government claims are at minimal levels, remains under control, sources familiar with plans told el Nuevo Herald.
“Cuba extended the closure of its airspace until July 1, so American [Airlines] will begin operating flights to the island starting on the 7th,” the airline said in a statement.
Although the company has already sold tickets to Havana online for flights beginning on June 8, the airline said there was a system error and that the tickets will start selling for flights in July.
Other airlines such as Southwest and Air Canada are also selling tickets to the island on similar dates. Calls to both airlines seeking comment were not immediately returned.
The United States Embassy in Havana, which has helped get more than 300 American and Cuban-American citizens out of the island after the government shutdown flights, said in a statement that Havana extended the closure of the international airport in Havana until at least the June 30th.
However, sources tied to Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not officially authorized to share information told el Nuevo Herald that the island is preparing to promote a “health tourism service” that would allow visitors to benefit from “the advantages of our human capital and our health system.”
“All measures will be taken to prevent the coronavirus from spreading again. We cannot keep the country closed any longer because our economy does not allow it,” said a tourism ministry official.
The Tourism Ministry told official media on Friday that it does not plan to open its borders “indicated” by the government.
“Taking into account the current situation of the development of this disease in Cuba and in the world, the Ministry of Tourism focuses on continuous improvement of the hotel and non-hotel facilities, as well as the development of hygiene and sanitary protocols, to deal with the resumption of tourism activities,“ the Ministry said in a statement.
Cuba banned the arrival of tourists in late March and closed its airspace in April after strong pressure from civil society for the government to isolate the country to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
So far, thousands of Cubans have been stranded in third countries and hundreds of other Cubans with dual nationality and tourists remain on the island.
Tourism, considered the most dynamic sector of the Cuban economy, generates income close to $3 billion annually, according to official figures. Visitors from Canada and the members of the Cuban-American diaspora are the main sources of tourist arrivals on the island.
According to projections by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Cuban economy will decrease by 3.7 per cent this year due to the shutdown implemented as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Economists on the island, however, have estimated a decrease of at least 6 per cent.