HAVANA, Mar 21 (Reuters) – In times of global panic over the coronavirus pandemic, the Cuban government has urged calm, arguing that stress weakens the immune system and has taken longer than its Caribbean neighbors to introduce measures drastic, trusting in the strength of their health system.
The government has suspended major cultural and sporting events, but so far has avoided sending workers and students home. Cuba announced on Friday the closure of its borders, except for the entry of residents abroad, allowing the departure of foreign tourists who remain on the island.
The island is renowned for its preparedness for natural disasters and epidemics for its medical prowess – its doctors spearheaded the fight against Ebola in West Africa, so many people trust the government to protect them.
With the highest index of doctors in the world, according to the World Bank, Cuba has tens of thousands of doctors, while some 28,000 medical students knock door to door on the island to monitor the community.
“The closure of work and teaching centers creates a situation of tension and stress that is known to lower the body’s immune system,” the chief of epidemiology at the Ministry of Health, Francisco Durán, said this week.
Cuba reported on Wednesday the first death from coronavirus, a 61-year-old Italian tourist. The number of infected by coronavirus increased to 21, all imported and about 700 patients are followed up for respiratory disorders.
“They should close the borders because the cases come from abroad,” said Luis Rodríguez, 48, who drives a taxi. “It will be difficult because we live from tourism although health comes first.”
In this line, the President of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, reported on Friday on the closure of the borders, except for the entries of residents abroad, while foreign tourists would have to leave the island in about 30 days.
Critics point out that Cuba has the oldest population in Latin America and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the disease. Increased internet access on the island has generated more concern, as citizens have been able to assess the approaches of other nations.
The Caribbean nation, with liquidity problems, which received more than 4 million visitors in 2019, maintains that the number of cases and the lack of local transmission were the causes that the authorities maintained for not having had to restrict the country’s borders. .
Although life in Havana has apparently continued normally, some private business owners have chosen to suspend their operations.
“We will close next week because we cannot become a place for the virus to spread,” said Nelson Rodríguez Tamayo, owner of a bustling café located in the colonial zone of Old Havana.
(Report by Sarah Marsh. Additional report by Nelson Acosta, Edited by Juana Casas; REUTERS NAB JIC /)