SPECIAL: Cuba uses hotels as anti-COVID-19 isolation centers
Updated 2021-03-18 05:03:44 | Spanish. xinhuanet. com
By Raul Menchaca
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
HAVANA, Mar. 17 (Xinhua) — Cuba has set up a score of hotels, mostly in Havana, as isolation centers where travelers arriving from abroad spend a few days until confirming that they are not infected with the new coronavirus.
Since the beginning of February and in view of a third outbreak of the pandemic, the authorities determined the isolation of these travelers, who must also present a negative molecular biology test, the so-called PCR test, carried out 72 hours before their arrival in Cuba.
The isolation has two modalities since there are paid hotels for foreigners and Cubans who opt for them and free centers only for Cubans, but with less comfort.
Travelers remain isolated for five nights until they know the results of the PCR test performed at the airports and another one at the hotel, where they also have daily sanitary control, since in each facility there is a doctor and a nurse, who twice a day examine each traveler.
“It’s a little stressful to be locked up, but I understand that it is the sanitary protocol to protect us and others,” Cuban Yosvany Barrios, who lives in the southern United States and returned to the island to spend a few days with his wife, who is four months pregnant, told Xinhua.
Barrios, a construction contractor, who stayed at the downtown Havana hotel NH Capri, said he feels safe with these measures, which help him “also to take care of my wife and the future baby”.
This opinion is shared by Jorge Carmona, another Cuban who also lives in the United States and who said he understands the need for these restrictions, despite the fact that it is uncomfortable to be locked up for so many days.
Visitors are not allowed to leave their rooms, pending the result of the PCR test, and can only leave them when it is confirmed that they are not infected.
“This prevents contact between people and therefore transmission,” said Dr. Juan Carlos Vidaud, an intensivist who usually works in a Havana hospital, but who with the arrival of the pandemic has been assigned to health surveillance at the NH Capri Hotel, where more than 100 people are staying.
For a month and a half, Vidaud has attended to more than 200 travelers staying at the hotel and explained that only four have tested positive for COVID-19, which has activated a rigorous emergency plan to transfer them to hospitals where they received specialized medical care.
It is a new reality for the now depressed Cuban tourism sector, once the second-largest contributor of foreign currency to the island, with some 3.1 billion dollars annually, only surpassed by the export of medical services, but today hard hit by the pandemic.
“We have a different clientele than we had before. There is a pre-COVID client and now there is a post-COVID client,” said Spain’s Juan Francisco Candeal, general manager of the NH Capri and NH Victoria hotels.
Candeal, a man of vast experience in the hotel industry, noted that the facilities he manages have modified more than 700 actions to conform to a strict sanitary protocol and protect clients and workers.
“I think that within this great misfortune that we are all going through, it has been a great improvement for the tourism industry,” said the executive of the Spanish chain.
Cuban authorities had closed the borders in April last year, but reopened them on November 1, which with the massive arrival of travelers for the end-of-year holidays gave rise to the current third outbreak of the disease on the island.
Therefore, at the beginning of February, in addition to the sanitary protocol in airports, the list of countries with restricted regular flights was extended to include the United States, Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Colombia and Jamaica, and connections with Nicaragua, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname were suspended.
Measures such as the suspension of the school year and the closure of public places such as theaters, bars and restaurants were also applied throughout the country.
In Havana, the main source of transmission of the disease, the authorities are maintaining restrictive sanitary measures that include limiting circulation from 21:00 local time until 5:00 hours the following day, as well as severe fines for those who do not use or misuse masks.
Since the Sars-CoV-2 virus, which causes the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), was first recorded on the island a year ago, Cuba has accumulated 63,725 infected people and 380 deaths.