HAVANA – Thousands of foreign tourists on Monday are leaving Cuba from Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, the communist island’s main connection point with the outside world, one day before the partial closure of the borders announced by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus goes into effect.
The airport’s check-in counters have long lines of travelers from all over the world, most of them wearing facemasks and ready to return home on one of the 49 outgoing international flights scheduled for the day – another seven having been cancelled – and most of them heading for destinations in the US, Latin America and Europe.
On Friday, the government had announced a series of measures to deal with the pandemic, including closing Cuba’s borders for a month starting Tuesday, albeit exempting island residents – both Cubans and foreigners – and commercial activities from the ban.
Authorities said that approximately 60,000 foreigners are leaving Cuba by air – including 10,000 Canadians, about 5,000 French and almost 2,000 Spaniards – at the rate of 13,000 per day since Saturday.
Of the visitors who are returning home, 11,640 had stayed in individual Cuban homes whose owners had been called upon to cooperate in their departure.
The restrictions affect the entries – and not the exiting – of foreigners, meaning that tourists are not obligated to leave before Tuesday, although the majority of governments are urging their nationals to return home as soon as possible to prevent future problems like flight cancellations or complete border closures.
However, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero promised that “next week, there will be no tourists in the country.”
Regarding arrivals from abroad, only Cuban citizens and foreign residents of the island returning to the country will be allowed to enter and all of them will have to endure a two-week quarantine, during which time they will be monitored for symptoms of the coronavirus or the sometimes deadly Covid-19 pneumonia it causes.
On Monday, Cuba had registered 40 cases of Covid-19, five more than the day before, with the majority of those patients coming from abroad or being individuals who had contact with foreign visitors, the government said.
So far, just one person has died from the virus in Cuba, a 61-year-old Italian tourist, but three patients are in critical condition, while more than 1,000 have been put in preventive isolation and more than 37,000 are isolated at home and being monitored by authorities.
So far, Havana has not ordered people to remain at home and the island’s schools remain open, although brigades of students have been dispatched to go door to door nationwide to detect anyone showing coronavirus symptoms, and the public has been ordered to comply with hygienic measures and to socially distance themselves from others to help limit the spread of the virus, to which humans have no immunity.