Havana airport keeps closed in response to spike in coronavirus cases

Readjustments of operations at José Martí International Airport in Havana

HAVANA, Aug. 8th After several weeks in which the coronavirus epidemic seemed under control, the reopening of the economy has caused a spike in cases in Havana, forcing the government to keep Cuba’s main airport closed.

On Friday, the Ministry of Public Health reported 54 new cases of people with COVID-19, the highest number in a month. Since August 1,221 new cases have been reported, the majority in Havana.

Just a few days earlier, on July 20, the island had announced its first day with zero cases detected.

But as it has happened in other countries attempting to go back to a new normal, infections rebounded. And even a gradual approach to lifting restrictions has proved challenging.

Even though Havana did not lift all the safety measures implemented during Phase 1 of the reopening in July, transportation services resumed, beaches reopened and patrons were allowed to sit at bars and restaurants with some limits on the number of diners.

According to official data, of the 54 new cases reported Friday, 43 were found in Havana, in 10 of its 15 municipalities. The local newspaper Tribuna de La Habana reported that the incidence rate of the virus in the capital is 71.9 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, and six municipalities are above that average. By comparison, Miami-Dade has a rate of 100.9 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

But the virus also continues to circulate throughout the rest of the island, with new cases reported in Artemisa, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas and Villa Clara.

In Bauta, a town in Artemisa, a province near the capital, a house party seems to have started a chain of contagion that sickened 93 people in recent weeks.

Cuban leader Miguel Diaz-Canel warned on Wednesday that the increase in cases could affect the start of the school year in Havana and Artemisa. He also expressed regret about the additional economic expenses being incurred at a time when the country is going through one of the worst financial crises in the last 20 years.

“Every time there is an outbreak like these, more people are admitted to hospitals and confined at isolation centers, and therefore there are more expenses,” said Diaz-Canel. “Every time we quarantine … a certain community or municipality, we have to organize and do things that also cost us more.”

Although the country is accepting foreign tourists in the keys that surround the island, the outbreak in Havana has prevented the reopening of the Jose Marti Airport, Cuba’s central travel hub, and the only one receiving flights from the United States.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero announced measures to limit access to the capital and further restrictions on bars and restaurants. He did not say when commercial flights, scheduled to restart in early August, will resume.

Cuba has reported a total of 2,275 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 88 deaths so far.
(Miami Herald)