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Claiming 'Recovery' From COVID-19, Cuba (Slightly) Opens The Door To Tourism

The seaside Avenida Malecon in Havana sits virtually empty still as Cuba begins to reopen from the coronavirus pandemic.
Ismael Francisco
The seaside Avenida Malecon in Havana sits virtually empty still as Cuba begins to reopen from the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuba believes it has managed COVID-19 well enough to re-open the island this week to one of its most important economic sectors: tourism. But you won’t see any visitors riding in vintage cars down Havana’s Malecón.

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On official state media like "Granma," you willsee headlines like: “Cuba has recovered and defeated the pandemic.” The island has in fact reported fewer than 2,500 COVID-19 cases and fewer than 100 deaths. But whether or not Cuba has really subdued the new coronavirus, it’s opening its doors again to foreign visitors.

Or at least opening its doors a crack. Under the plan, tourists will have to stay on one of five islands just off Cuba’s north coast, including Cayo Coco. They’ll also have to take charter flights directly to those islands, or to a site in central Cuba.

Before they’re allowed to go to their island hotels, they’ll be tested for coronavirus. Those who show symptoms will be quarantined and most likely sent packing. Those who can stay will be strictly isolated from the Cuban population.

Cuba earns $4 billion a year from tourism, or about a tenth of its GDP. The loss of that revenue in the past few months has further crippled the communist island’s economy and worsened shortages. Even so, Havana, which has seen most of Cuba’s COVID-19 cases, will remain off limits to tourists for now.

Officials this week said most of Cuba, except Havana, is now entering phase two of the island’s post-pandemic re-opening.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.