The island nation’s strict health and safety measures have curbed the spread of COVID-19 — and now it’s slowly welcoming back international travelers.

By Rachel Chang
October 13, 2020
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After seven months of tight lockdowns, Cuba started loosening its coronavirus restrictions on Monday, hoping to restart its economy — especially its $3 billion tourism industry, according to the Associated Press.

In an announcement made last Thursday, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said 13 of the country’s 16 provinces can start reopening for tourism this week, NBC reports. However, the capital of Havana will not be part of this initial move, as it suffered a spike in August, according to CNN. The Havana Airport will remain closed for now.

Strict mask and physical distancing measures remain in place, but those who may have been in contact with possible coronavirus cases will no longer be put in isolation facilities, as they had been, and can isolate at home, Marrero said.

Since April 2, all air and sea travel to the island nation had been banned, requiring government permission for anyone arriving or leaving the country. Travel restrictions were also put in place within the country, according to CNN, with tourism of any kind restricted, including the closure of bars, restaurants, hotels, and beaches.

But now, in an attempt to woo back travelers during its normally busy peak period from November to March, international tourists can slowly start returning. The Varadero beach resort town will reopen on Thursday to foreigners, who will be required to be tested and monitored while in Cuba, the AP reports.

The move comes as Cuba’s current economic outlook is “very tense,” as the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Alejandro Gil said on state-run television. “We have never had that dilemma between health and the economy. The first thing is always the health of our people.”

To date, Cuba has had 6,000 confirmed cases and 123 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center. The strict measures have paid off, as some provinces haven’t seen any new cases in several months, President Miguel Díaz-Canel said last week, the AP reports.

With the country’s gross domestic product forecasted to fall 8%, according to the AP, efforts have been made to restart the essential travel industry. In July, international visitors were allowed to outlying islands, only coming in contact with Cuban hotel staff, CNN reports.

As of this morning, the U.S. Department of State still has Cuba at a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory, citing COVID-19.