March 12, 2020 / 12:08 AM / 25 days ago

Cuba urges citizens to make own masks as it braces for coronavirus

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba’s textile industry has been drafted to fabricate masks while the government is also urging citizens to make their own, as the Communist-run island braces for the potential arrival of coronavirus amid a cash crunch and dwindling supplies worldwide.

While state officials say there have been no confirmed cases so far, they have ramped up campaigns on how to ward off the infection, through talks at workplace and community meetings, and through state media.

“We can make (masks) at home using material like cotton, cloth, linen,” according to 5 de Septiembre, the state newspaper of Cienfuegos province.

“These are washable and we can carry several with us, depending on how many hours we will be in public spaces or areas with a lot of people.”

While residents of other countries have queued up at pharmacies and stores to stock up on surgical and dust masks as the epidemic spreads, these are not usually available for sale to the general population in Cuba.

But government officials have said this week they want to ensure the whole population can either buy industrial masks or make their own.

Supporters of Cuba’s centralized economy say it allows the government to effectively divert resources toward priorities in times of crisis, while its focus on preventive healthcare helps it contain disease outbreaks.

The country is strapped for cash, partly due to a hike in U.S. sanctions, and it faces shortages of basic goods including medicines, not to mention supplies needed to fight off coronavirus.

Susana Navarro, the manager of a state-owned textile workshop in Havana, said it was waiting for the correct fabric to arrive to start making masks.

“There is a deficit in the country,” Navarro said in an interview.

So far, Latin America has been spared the worst ravages of the virus. Around 100 cases have been reported in the region since Brazil announced the first case on Feb. 26.

Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Richard Chang

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