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Grappling with coronavirus surge, Cuba suspends schools, public transport - Metro US

Grappling with coronavirus surge, Cuba suspends schools, public transport

FILE PHOTO: Children play dominoes beside masks for sale in downtown Havana, Cuba

HAVANA (Reuters) – The Cuban government is once more shutting down schools, public transport and cultural activities across swathes of the Caribbean island during the worst outbreak of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

Cuba has registered new daily records of infections for the last six days, including 550 on Wednesday, and has already recorded more infections in the first 12 days of 2021 than in the entire previous month.

Cuba has 11 million people and while it still only has half the global average of daily confirmed cases per capita, at 43 cases per million, that is up from around one-tenth for most of last year when authorities were hailed for their successful containment of the virus.

“We need to work intensely … And we need to close lines,” Cuba’s top epidemiologist Francisco Duran said in a daily televised briefing on Wednesday.

Authorities say travelers from hard-hit countries such as the United States who failed to follow hygiene protocols like quarantine largely caused the surge. The government has sharply reduced flights from those countries and introduced a requirement to test negative before traveling to Cuba.

Critics say it should have required the test as soon as it opened borders last November, as did some neighboring islands, and its mismanagement of the economy in addition to U.S. sanctions is to blame for hours-long queues outside supermarkets that are complicating social distancing.

Cuba has four vaccine candidates in trials and said it expects one of them to be ready to start vaccinating citizens during the first half of this year although some Cubans are concerned it has not announced a backup plan in case none of them succeed.

The government has not said it is negotiating with any other manufacturers for access to vaccines. It called its first two vaccine candidates Soberana 1 and 2 – Spanish for “sovereign”, underscoring its quest for self-reliance.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta; editing by Grant McCool)

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