Cuba is gripped in a double-whammy crisis impacting its health sector and the economy as it battles food shortages and rising Covid-19 cases.
The Economist magazine reports that the country is facing its worst shortage of food since the 1990s. At the same time, other media reports suggest that Cuba is experiencing a spiralling of COVID-19 cases putting the country’s normally robust healthcare system under severe pressure.
FOOD SHORTAGES AND FOREIGN CURRENCY CONTROLS
According to the Economist, the Cuban government is blaming the shortage of food mostly on the continuing sanctions imposed by the United States. But the news magazine points out that since 2001 the sanctions have exempted food.
But it says some external factors have affected the food supply such as the rise in global food prices, which in the year to May surged by 40%, the largest increase in a decade, has made imports more expensive.
However, the Economist states that the main problem is the government’s lack of hard currency where declines in tourism and remittances have had a disastrous effect on the national economy and individual purchasing power.
Cubans can no longer buy US dollars from state-operated exchanges at the airport which has in turn impacted on paying for the import of vital products and ingredients.
It says the government has also instituted tough measures to secure foreign exchange including restricting residents from depositing dollars into their bank accounts for an undisclosed amount of time. Foreigners are also now required to pay for their seven-day Covid mandatory stay in a state-owned quarantine hotel in dollars.
COVID CHALLENGES AND VACCINE HOPES
And it’s with the Covid-19 pandemic that Cuba is also facing a second major hurdle.
Infection rates are increasing as the country works on getting its anxiously-awaited Abdala and Soberana-1 and 2 vaccines approved.
As of this past Sunday Cuba had broken another record for daily cases with 3,519 new infections and 14 deaths.
Cuba’s Director of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Francisco Duran disclosed that total cases had risen to over 200,000 and deaths attributed to the disease to 1,351.
A national vaccination trial is with the Abdala, Soberana/Sovereign-02, and Soberana /Sovereign Plus vaccines.
To date, over six and a half million doses have been administered with more than 2.8 million people receiving a first shot.
The Cuban authorities claim that the Abdala vaccine is over 92 per cent effective after three doses, putting it on par with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna medications.
Ongoing trials of the Soberana (or Sovereign) 02, are reported to be showing an efficacy rate of 62% with two doses with plans for a third dose to volunteers to see if the rate improves.