HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba tightened border controls on Wednesday as the Caribbean island nation moved to tamp down a growing wave of coronavirus infections while keeping doors open for its economically vital tourism industry.
The country will now require both a negative PCR within 72 hours and proof of vaccination of all visitors, though authorities have said they will continue to welcome tourists and keep children in school.
Cuba had previously required only the vaccination card for most travelers.
Daily cases on Tuesday hit 967, up more than tenfold since the weeks before Christmas, when new infections hovered at fewer than 100 per day, or just 1% of their pandemic peak on Aug. 22. Deaths from the virus, however, have not increased.
Cuba detected its first case of the fast-spreading Omicron variant in early December and numbers have ticked up since.
At a high-level government meeting late on Tuesday, health officials said they expected cases to increase but not deaths, thanks to the country’s unusually high vaccination rate.
The poor, communist-run nation is among the world’s most vaccinated. More than 92% of its population has received at least one shot of its home-grown inoculations, and upwards of 85% with a full course, according to “Our World in Data.”
Cuba has already begun a booster campaign and said last week it hoped to cover the entire country with the additional shot by the end of January.
Health officials appealed to Cubans to recover from non-severe cases of the virus by isolating themselves in their homes, noting that schools and hotels, which were previously used to temporarily care for the sick, would not be available this time around.
On the streets of Havana, tourism workers said they were happy to see visitors return to the island but worried about the new strains.
“We are very afraid that everything will close as before,” said Denis Rosel, a doorman at a private bar in Havana.
“This is a Caribbean country where there is a lot of tourism every year and so we hope…that it can go back to the way it was,” he said.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Reuters TV; Editing by David Gregorio)