HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will bar foreign visitors from entering the country for a month starting Tuesday in a bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Caribbean island nation, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Friday.
The country will continue to allow Cubans and foreign residents entry, although they will have to go into quarantine for 14 days at a sanitary institution upon arrival, he told a televised roundtable. Foreign visitors will be able to return home and commerce will be allowed.
Cuba is one of the last countries in the region to impose some kind of border closure as the highly contagious disease takes hold in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“This should enable us to stop (importing) cases and to focus on detecting those there are in the country and stopping transmission,” Diaz-Canel said, adding that the restrictions could be extended depending on the situation.
Tourism is one of Cuba’s top income earners although arrivals had already started shrinking in recent days as countries that are the top sources of visitors to the island started advising against travel.
“Already planes are mainly coming to pick up visitors, many arrive empty, like those coming from Canada,” Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said on the roundtable. “Possibly all hotels will close”.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Cuba rose to 21 on Friday - 10 of those foreigners - with 716 people hospitalized on suspicion of having the disease, according to the health ministry.
A 61-year old Italian tourist, who was one of the first cases to be confirmed in Cuba nine days ago, also became the first coronavirus fatality this week.
Diaz-Canel called for Cubans to start practicing social distancing, avoid crowds and trips on public transport at peak hours, and cancel social outings.
“Something very difficult due to Cubans’ nature, but very necessary, is the elimination of effusive greetings,” he said. “No kisses or hugs and greetings at a prudent distance until the epidemic passes by.”
The president said the country could take “more severe” measures in coming days or even hours, depending on the spread of the virus.
Interior Commerce Minister Betsy Diaz said 151 workshops were currently making face masks and called on citizens to aid production by contributing fabric. Many Cubans are making their own face masks at home.
Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Chris Reese and Cynthia Osterman