The coronavirus in Cuba

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Cuba demonstrates its unwavering commitment not only to the well-being of its citizens, but also its commitment to the fight against this disease in any part of the world that needs its efforts.

By Luiz Bernardo Pericás*

In times of the new coronavirus pandemic, Cuba has set an example of competence and international solidarity. In the first week of March, Havana instituted a disease control prevention plan with various regulations and measures to safeguard the island in case of contamination. The first occurrences of the disease were diagnosed on the 11th of the same month, three Italians who had just arrived in the country and who had respiratory problems. The Europeans were on a walk in Trinidad (Sancti Spiritus) and were quickly taken to the Instituto Médico Tropical Pedro Kourí, where they tested positive for Covid-19. The government at the same time warned the population that there would be 3.100 beds available for initial treatment and another 100 reserved for intensive care. 

Already on the 16th, a request from the United Kingdom was confirmed for the cruise ship to MS Braemar, operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, carrying 682 passengers (mostly British) and 381 crew, with five infected and almost thirty suspected of having contracted the disease, could dock on the island for the prompt repatriation of its citizens. No country, until then, had allowed the spacecraft to enter their territories (such as the Bahamas and Barbados). The Cuban attitude would be different. An official note in the diary Granma would state that these “are times of solidarity, of understanding health as a human right, of strengthening international cooperation to face our common challenges”. Permission was quickly granted and the liner docked in Mariel on the 18th. All were safely evacuated. 

From then on, tougher measures began to be adopted. With the borders now closed to tourism (commercial and charter suspended and foreign vessels asked to leave their ports), the few travelers who have traveled to the country (in general, residents returning home), when disembarking, are immediately sent to a reception center, where they are removed preventively. In all provinces, there are reception sites for asymptomatic new arrivals, who remain for two weeks under monitoring (more than 3 people are in isolation at these points and another 18.314, locked up in their homes). At the moment, it is possible to verify two “closed” zones in quarantine, one in Consolación del Sur (Pinar del Río) and another in “Consejo Popular Carmelo”, in Vedado (Havana). Most of the coronavirus cases are concentrated in the capital. In any case, military hospitals have acted prominently in several cities. Attention to this issue, therefore, has been redoubled. Until April 8, the country had registered 457 cases, with 12 deaths and a few patients in serious condition, in addition to 27 cured (more than 5 thousand tests have already been carried out in the country). 

The authorities have boosted the campaign Stay at home, insisting that the population does not go out into the street. At the same time, the police disperse any type of crowd and citizens, for the most part, have followed health protocols to the letter, respecting distancing and wearing masks to protect their faces. Television advertisements and press alerts are a constant. Not to mention the accurate performance of the President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who has been objectively presenting all the consequences of the disease. As a form of homage and retribution to health professionals, daily at 21 pm, residents open the windows of their homes and applaud doctors and nurses. 

Not only that. Restaurants, in partnership with the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), have offered free meals to the elderly (after all, Cuba has, proportionally, one of the largest populations of elderly people in Latin America, who cannot remain unattended). All this mobilization, therefore, has been fundamental. It is important to note that workers are entitled to receive full wages for one month and 60% of their wages during the entire period in which their work is suspended due to natural disasters or a health crisis. 

Scientific research to contain Covid-19 is also advancing, especially from a drug developed in the country, Interferón Alfa-2b, used to treat diseases such as hepatitis B and C, herpes zoster and dengue. In this sense, the “Centro de Ingeniería Genética y Biotecnología” (CIGB) is working tirelessly in partnership with a respected laboratory in Yongzhou, in the province of Jilin (around 15 countries have already requested the medicine). Doctor Santiago Dueñas Carrera, deputy general manager of the Chinese-Cuban company Changheber, says that so far more than 200 doses of the drug have been administered in China, mainly to therapists and assistants, with the aim of strengthening their immune system. Although it is not the cure, this is a relevant palliative in the current situation. 

It is worth remembering that Beijing has just donated a considerable amount of accessories for clinical use: there are 10 surgical masks, 500 infrared thermometers, 2.000 disposable protective suits, as well as the same number of special glasses, pairs of hospital gloves and isolation. These materials will certainly help protect lives in the fight against the new coronavirus. 

In addition to dealing with endogenous cases, local authorities have sent brigades of the International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Confronting Disasters and Major Epidemics “Henry Reeve” to several countries (such as Italy, Jamaica, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Suriname, Belize and Grenada, for example), in order to support with its specialized workforce the nations that have gone through enormous difficulties to contain the pandemic in their territories. With this, Cuba demonstrates its unwavering commitment not only to the well-being of its citizens, but also its commitment to the fight against this disease in any part of the world that needs its efforts. 

*Luiz Bernardo Pericas Professor of History at USP

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