Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals

Cuba to require pre-arrival COVID-19 tests as cases rebound

3 minute read

A traveller has her temperature checked at the Jose Marti International Airport amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Havana, Cuba, November 15, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

HAVANA, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Facing a steep rebound in coronavirus infections since fully re-opening borders last month, Cuba will require all inbound travelers from next year to provide proof of a negative test before departure in addition to current screening upon arrival.

Cuba received plaudits for successfully containing its coronavirus outbreak by isolating cases and suspected cases, contact tracing and active monitoring of the population, in addition to deploying a partial lockdown.

But like countries worldwide it has having to weigh the need to open up - especially important in the tourism-reliant Caribbean - with the need to prevent the spread of the virus.

The pandemic and tougher U.S. sanctions on top of domestic inefficiencies have plunged the import-dependent island nation into crisis, rendering even the most basic goods scarce.

Cuba's daily infection rate per capita remains low - at just 15 percent of the global average, according to Our World in Data - but has doubled over the past month, largely due to imported cases, according to official data.

The island nation of 11 million reported a new record of 142 cases on Tuesday for the previous day, nearly half of which were imported, bringing the accumulated total to 10,384 reported cases and 139 deaths from the novel coronavirus.

Cuban scientists told President Miguel Diaz-Canel in a meeting on Tuesday that the daily tally could reach a peak of 2,000 by mid-February if the current conditions were maintained, according to state-run media.

All provinces are experiencing "a fairly accelerated growth in the number of confirmed cases," Raul Guinovart Diaz, the dean of Havana University's mathematics faculty, was quoted as saying. "There's a new normal in the country, we also need a new normal for receiving visitors."

To date, Cuba has required visitors to take a test upon arrival at the airport and to quarantine in their hotel until receiving the results two days later.

Returning residents or those going to live "in the community" like Cuban Americans going to stay with family are required to take another test around five days later and to quarantine until receiving the results of that second test.

But some visitors have ignored the regulations and around two thirds of the infected people arriving in Cuba are transmitting the illness, according to state-run media.

Now, all inbound travelers will also have to provide a certificate of a negative PCR test conducted in the 72 hours before arrival in Cuba, according to the Pan American Health Organization's office in Havana and at least two European embassies that say they were notified by the government.

The Cuban government has not yet officially announced the measure and did not reply to a request for comment.

It had previously said it was not requiring a test prior to departure because this was very expensive in many countries and the results did not always arrive on time.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta in Havana; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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