Cuba will close its borders to international tourism and non-resident visitors for at least a month, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel announced on March 20. Cuban residents and foreigners who live on the island will still be allowed to enter Cuba, but would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period in special facilities upon arrival.
The new border-control regulations go into effect tomorrow, on March 24. In addition, some 60,000 tourists already on the island would be leaving in the coming days, Cuban authorities said.
“This should enable us to stop [importing virus] cases and to focus on detecting those there are in the country and stopping transmission,” stated Díaz-Canel.
Cuba’s first cases of Coronavirus were reported on March 11 when a group of Italian tourists was diagnosed with the virus. As of today, medical authorities in Cuba have confirmed 40 cases and there are more than 1,000 people hospitalized, according to CNN. There has been one death from the virus, according to multiple news reports.
Díaz-Canel and his top aides made the announcement on the Cuban-state television news show, “Mesa Redonda.” “Next week we won’t have tourists in the country,” stated Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz. “The entirety of the hotels will possibly be closed. Some may be open to provide basic services,” to support various sectors of the economy.
Heavily dependent on tourism, Cuba’s economy had already begun to feel the effects of the pandemic. As governments around the world issued warnings against international travel, air carriers curtailed flights, and tour providers cancelled scheduled trips.
“This will of course have a profound, very direct impact on millions of Cubans that work directly in tourism or benefit indirectly from the money that comes in from the tourism sector,” said Collin Laverty, president of tourism provider Cuba Educational Travel, which has suspended all scheduled tours to the island.
Even before the Coronavirus crisis exploded, the Cuban economy was reeling from a range of economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. “For vulnerable Cuba, an auto-embargo on international tourism translates into less food on the family table, more cars and tractors sidelined for lack of gasoline,” Richard Feinberg, an economist who has done a series of reports on Cuba for the Brookings Institution, told Cigar Aficionado. “Yet, Cuba is uniquely well organized to manage a health crisis and to ration scarce commodities.”
To sustain the economy, Marrero said the country was not “closing its borders but regulating entry.” Commercial cargo, he stressed, would continue to arrive via shipping and planes, but crews would be sequestered while on the island under medical supervision. “We have to keep the economy alive,” Marrero said.
Díaz-Canel urged Cubans to adopt social distancing measures, including “the elimination of effusive greetings” such as kisses and hugs, avoiding large groups and crowded buses, and curtailing travel. The Cuban government has yet to adopt the type of severe restrictions that other countries are implementing; Cuban schools, stores and government offices remain open. Díaz-Canel, though, signaled that “more severe measures” were being considered in the coming days, “depending on the evolution of the situation in the country and in the world.”