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Cuba enters new normal with mask mandates

by Yosley Carrero

HAVANA, Nov. 15 (Xinhua) — Bernardo Sosa, a Cuban national residing in the United States, was happy to be back on the island after 20 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He was among passengers who arrived at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport as Cuba has entered a new normal period following the government’s announcement of its success in controlling the spread of the disease.

Sosa, who lives in Florida with his family, told Xinhua that he had been counting days for the moment when border restrictions on the island would be lifted.

“I feel safe in Cuba because most people here have been vaccinated against COVID-19. I was homesick,” he said.

Like him, many Cuban nationals who arrived on the island met relatives and friends after a long bout of physical separation.

“I feel excited. It is great to be here,” said Pedro Alonso, a Cuban senior citizen living overseas. “It has been particularly painful not attending funerals of beloved ones.”

On Monday, the airport in Havana received 21 flights from countries, including Turkey, Panama, Venezuela, the United States and Mexico.

With quarantine requirements already being lifted, international travelers who visit the country are only asked to show vaccination certificates issued overseas or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests taken 72 hours before arrival.

The number of international weekly flights to Cuba is projected to increase to 415 from just over 60, according to official statistics.

“We are expecting to recover pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022 or early 2023. The number of operations will rise significantly by late December,” said Lisette Urgelles, deputy director of the Cuban company for airport services ECASA.

The local tourism industry added new hotel rooms to welcome international tourists with mask mandates and COVID-19 protocols in place.

“All our workers have been trained on safety guidelines and coronavirus protocols. Different measures have also been adopted to reduce the risk of contagion and the potential exposure to the virus,” said Hector Silva, a senior tourism official.

More than 700,000 children aged 5-10 returned to in-person classes on Monday after getting vaccinated with home-grown coronavirus vaccines.

“I feel very happy to come back to the classroom. I love my teacher and classmates,” fourth grader Fernanda Saldivar told Xinhua during a welcoming ceremony for students at a school in Havana’s Marianao district.

Beaches, sports facilities, restaurants, cultural centers, and swimming pools have been reopened nationwide as all restrictions on people’s mobility have been lifted.

The Caribbean nation registered 326 new cases of COVID-19 and one more related death in the past 24 hours, bringing the national caseload to 959,064 and death toll to 8,283.

So far, more than 27 million doses of domestic vaccines have been administered in Cuba, with over 76 percent of the island’s 11 million inhabitants being fully jabbed.

Francisco Duran, national director of epidemiology at the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, said that self-responsibility and discipline were fundamental to keeping the pandemic in check.

“The vaccination drive has been essential to keeping the virus under control, but physical distancing, wearing of face coverings and handwashing are very important because the pandemic is far from over,” he said.

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