By Michael Jarvis, London UK
Cuba is this week moving into the third phase of its gradual three-step reopening as the country begins to cautiously work its way out of its COVID-19 restrictions.
The tentative steps towards breathing some life back into its struggling economy were also particularly aimed at rekindling its tourism sector.
The Cuban government had previously announced that several provincial airports were being opened to international flights to be followed by its main Jose Marti International Airport in the capital Havana, although no date has yet been announced for that.
The phased reopening from Monday retains a number of restrictions on tourists and locals.
Protocols for arriving passengers include requiring that they undergo a free COVID-19 PCR test plus making a sworn declaration of good health.
After the test is taken, the traveller must quarantine at their hotel for a maximum for 24 hours to await the test results.
The country’s phased reopening of its economy has already seen the islands of the Cuban Keys accepting visitors as a first tentative step.
Officials have also stated that Cuban nationals returning from overseas will now be able to go to their homes rather than going into quarantine in a government facility.
Face masks are mandatory in enclosed places as part of what Cuban officials call “the new normal”.
Cuban nationals who were stranded overseas when the government closed the borders and stopped international flights can now extend their stay outside the country for another year with no consequence to their national status.
The country has been battling a double-whammy hit to its economy; first the further tightening of trade sanctions by the Trump administration with that now compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite that, while other countries have been struggling to cope with the global health crisis, the direct public health impact on Cuba has to date been less severe due to its robust healthcare system.
The Cuban government has described its strategy for battling the pandemic as “successful”.
The Cuban government has also been assisting other regional countries with healthcare expertise by sending out doctors and nurses on a dual mission; to help them cope with the pandemic and also to earn valuable foreign exchange for the country.
But it’s tourism that Cuba is relying on to get it out of the economic doldrums that it has been mired in since the 1960s due mainly to stifling economic sanctions kept in place by succeeding US administrations.
A respite by the Obama government which resulted in a growth spurt in Cuba’s once vibrant tourism industry, was however short-lived. It has suffered a severe setback with the Trump administration reinstating what Obama had relaxed - even tightening the screws further.
Although Cuba might be weathering the health aspects of COVID-19 comparatively better than other regional states, that has been compromised by the fragile state of its economy.