HAVANA, July 2    Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Friday urged local authorities and the public to make preparations as Hurricane Elsa nears the Caribbean nation.

“Tropical storm Elsa is approaching Cuba. We have given instructions to territories for them to put into practice their plans against disasters, with extreme caution due to the pandemic (COVID-19),” he said on Twitter.

Diaz-Canel called for discipline to avoid casualties in light of the potential damage the hurricane could cause.

It comes as the Cuban government strives to contain its sharpest rise in deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 since the start of the sanitary emergency in the country in March 2020.

Nationwide, precautionary measures have been adopted to maintain the vitality of the public health system.

Cuban Health Minister Jose Angel Portal said that shelters should abide by COVID-19 protocols, with particular attention paid to water and food supplies.

“Drug stores are also very vulnerable to the impact of the hurricane, this is the reason why medicines must be protected,” he said, adding that medical teams should be available for people living in remote areas.

Weather conditions are expected to start deteriorating by late Saturday in the country’s easternmost region as the hurricane moves toward the Florida Keys.

In Cuban’s eastern provinces of Holguin, cinemas, theatres and state institutions have become makeshift shelters for thousands of people expected to be evacuated, local media reported.

Meanwhile, in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-most populous city, the provincial government continues to monitor the water levels of dams and has implemented a plan to protect people who live in mountainous regions.

Elsa, which became the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic season, will hit Cuba with heavy rains and gusty winds and is also expected to batter the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica, according to meteorologists. (Xinhua)