As Cuba’s vaccination plan against COVID-19 progresses and, with it, the gradual containment of the pandemic, the Cuban Ministry of Tourism reported this week that the country is ready to reopen its borders to the long-awaited international tourism on November 15.
At a press conference, Juan Carlos García Granda, the Minister of Tourism, confirmed what the island’s health authorities have said in recent days: the country maintains a downward trend in the number of confirmed cases of Sars-Cov-2 and the continued capacity to control the pandemic.
“In accordance with the results achieved, international sanitary control measures are made more flexible,” said the minister, who has also expressed confidence that the reopening process will be an orderly and safe one.
So much so that Cuba will eliminate the mandatory quarantine of international travelers upon arrival, starting on November 7. After November 15 – the official date of the reopening – PCR tests will no longer be carried out at airports.
Instead, all travelers from abroad must present proof of international vaccination against COVID-19; For those who have not yet been vaccinated, it will be mandatory to present a negative PCR test of no more than 72 hours before entering the country.
“Cuba will recognize all [anti-COVID19] vaccines that countries and regulatory agencies have already done so,” explained García Granda. However, sanitary measures will be maintained in all hotels and lodging houses, restaurants, and other tourist sites, and the mandatory use of masks throughout the country is also maintained.
The largest island in the Caribbean expects an increase in international flights after November 15 and, with it, the arrival of more than 100,000 travelers before the end of the year. It is a small figure, but it could help boost the tourism market again, hit hard by the pandemic and the United States sanctions. So far in 2021, the country has received just under 200,000 visitors, a number that is far from the 2 million that the country expected for this year.
Pointing in this sense, the Minister of Tourism assured that “the ten international airports are ready” on Cuban soil to begin receiving a greater flow of passengers after the second week of November. All the personnel associated with that sector are also prepared.
“Workers in the tourism sector and workers in transport, customs, immigration and aviation, together with public health, were the first to be vaccinated. Therefore there is a total guarantee that all these personnel will be vaccinated,” said the minister and he added that thanks to these efforts, “a great expectation has been created among tour operators and airlines.”
Since the Cuban authorities announced the reopening of borders, the Cuban government has received requests from airlines and tour operators from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other European countries to include the island in their destinations. Airlines from Mexico, Panama, and the Dominican Republic have also shown their interest, the latter being important connection ports for the region.
The state-run Cubana de Aviación also recently announced the restart of its traditional routes to Spain and Argentina, gradually returning to normal.
Control and order before reopening
For those who might be afraid that a reopening to tourism will lead to a re-outbreak of COVID-19, García Granda emphasized that Cuba aspires to offer responsible and safe tourism, with all that that entails.
“Talking about responsible tourism is not a slogan. Preventing a return of COVID is something we have to think about every day,” he said while showing security in the health protocols implemented throughout the archipelago.
The daily figures for Sars-Cov-2 since last September gives proof of this. The curve of infections due to the virus has been rolling downhill – slowly but steadily – and the trend allows us to envision a generalized control of the pandemic for next month when more than 90% of the population is expected to be fully vaccinated.
To date, more than 88% of Cubans already have at least one dose of any of the vaccines developed on the island, and more than 61% have already completed the vaccination schedule.
Deaths from the virus, which averaged more than 80 a day just two months ago, have dropped to an average of 25 a day. While this number remains very high for Cuban doctors’ aspirations, the downward propensity is good news.
Little by little, Cuba returns to normality.
Translation to English by Manolo De Los Santos, Originally published in Claridad