HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba announced on Monday it would allow fewer flights from the United States and several other countries beginning Jan. 1, due to a surge in coronavirus cases since opening its airports in November.
Cubans living abroad and returning to visit, or returning from shopping trips, have spread the virus to family members and beyond by breaking quarantine, the government said.
Mexico, Panama, the Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are also on the list. The government did not say how many flights per day would be allowed.
The health Ministry reported 3,782 COVID-19 cases from Nov. 1 through Dec. 23, of which it said 71.5% were visitors or their direct contacts.
The government said in a separate announcement that the famous Varadero beach resort had received 69,000 foreign tourists during the same period without an outbreak of the disease.
Cuba currently tests visitors upon arrival and again in five days if they are not staying in hotels. Beginning on Jan. 10, they will also need proof of a negative test within 72 hours before arrival.
While most tourists stay in hotels with international health guidelines and additional local restrictions, returning Cubans stay with family and friends. They are expected to quarantine in place until the results of the second test come back negative, as are people living in the home they are staying in.
“I had one cousin come in and she stayed inside the whole trip,” said Rafael, a Havana resident, who asked that his last name not be used.
“I saw her through a gate. But then another cousin came in and he was out the door the same night,” he said.
Cuba’s daily infection rate per capita remains low – at just 15% of the global average, according to Our World in Data – but it has doubled over the past month, according to official data.
The island nation of 11 million on Monday reported a new record of 224 cases for the previous day, with visitors contributing 65% of those cases. This brought the accumulated total since the pandemic began to 11,434 reported cases and 142 deaths.
(Reporting by Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by Matthew Lewis)