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Implementation of new international sanitary measures advances in Cuba

Covid- medidasGiven the epidemiological situation around the world and the need to contain a new wave of COVID-19 cases in Cuba, new measures have been adopted, including the testing and isolation of all travelers arriving from abroad

Since February 6, when new international sanitary control measures came into effect, along with the decision to isolate all travelers from abroad upon arrival in the country; both provisions were established based on the national and international epidemiological situation, and the need to contain a new wave of COVID-19 cases in the nation.

In this regard, new reductions in the frequency of flights from the United States, Mexico, Panama, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Colombia were implemented. Flights to and from Nicaragua, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Suriname remained suspended. Trips to Haiti were suspended and the arrival of flights without passengers was authorized only to evacuate persons stranded in the country, be they foreign citizens or Cubans residing abroad.

In view of the currently difficult epidemiological situation in Cuba, which was triggered by violations of home quarantine protocols established for international travelers arriving in the country after the reopening of the José Martí International Airport in the capital on November 15, it was decided to implement institutional isolation for all persons in this category.

Prior to making the move, the government prepared capacities in isolation centers in all provinces, to guarantee appropriate conditions for international travelers. It was determined that for residents, the isolation would be in centers set up for this purpose, with lodging, food and transportation to the center, as well as to their residence when released from quarantine, all provided free of charge.

International visitors and non-resident Cubans are to be isolated in hotel facilities designated in each territory, with travelers assuming the cost of their stay and transportation. Those residents who have the necessary resources may take advantage of this option and pay for a tourist package.

Two days before the beginning of the application of these measures, Granma visited José Martí International Airport’s Terminal III to verify how the new provisions are being implemented, and spoke with Aeronautics, Transportation and Public Health authorities about progress being made in the process.

Alcibiades Jesús Alarcón Mota, head of Ground Operations at the terminal, explained that since the new regulations were issued general access to any part of the facility, both inside and out, is prohibited. Only passengers and employees of the facility are authorized.

Flight arrival schedules were also adapted. “We have spaced flights, since the progression of arriving passengers is more complicated than that of departing travelers. By allowing a minimum of one and a half hours between one flight and another, we can ensure that there will be no congestion within the terminal,” he reported.

Likewise, the unaccompanied baggage option has been eliminated. Regarding this rule change, Alarcón clarified that now all passenger belongings must come on the aircraft with the ticket holder. “At times, there was not enough room on the aircraft for all luggage and passengers could send it on another flight, as unaccompanied baggage. At the moment, to avoid the influx of persons coming to retrieve suitcases, the airline cannot allow unaccompanied baggage.”

Regarding hygienic-sanitary measures within the facility, Alarcón stated that efforts continue to maintain physical distancing, the use of protective wear by workers and passengers, as well as the disinfection of hands and surfaces. To guarantee that standards are met, greeters were placed at the terminal’s entrance, to control entry, take passengers’ temperature, provide hand sanitizer and separate one traveler from another. In addition, only one entrance door is open, through which all travelers and employees access the area.

Alarcón reported that Terminal III is now operating only about 25 flights a week, and serving around 4,000 fewer passengers.

The sanitary protocols with which all travelers must comply upon arrival to the island, established November 15 when the Havana airport was reopened, remain unchanged. Upon arrival, passengers are required to present evidence of a negative PCR test, issued by an internationally certified laboratory in their country of origin, administered no more than 72 hours before their flight.

The passenger is then administered another PCR before being transported to an isolation center, where he or she remains in quarantine until results are available from of a second test administered on the fifth day after arrival.

Body temperature is taken again in the customs area and upon exiting the terminal, as passengers are waiting to be transferred, where a medical assistance post is available should any emergency arise.

Milidza Ayllon Castañera, head of Havana’s International Sanitary Control Department, noted that, since February 6, supervision to ensure adherence to preventative measures has been reinforced, including the area between the terminal exit and where passengers board buses to be transferred to an isolation center.

She emphasized the presence of the state sanitary inspection personnel in all areas, to observe passengers and enforce compliance with epidemiological measures: physical distancing, the use of facemasks and proper food handling in areas where refreshments and meals are served.

Ayllon reported that in the event that a passenger exhibits symptoms indicative of a possible illness, an isolation room is available, prepared in accordance with international sanitary regulations. In such a situation, the passenger is isolated from others and all arrangements are made for his or her transfer to an appropriate health institution, which would be in Havana, regardless of the affected person’s destination or province of residence.

Regarding the isolation protocol, the head of the Ground Operations at the airport explained that, once passengers arrive in the country, resident citizens, foreigners and non-resident Cubans are grouped separately, to determine who will go to free-of-cost isolation centers, and who will go to pre-paid hotels, as well as the transportation each traveler requires.

Cuban and resident passengers’ provinces of origin are also taken into consideration, in order to organize transportation to their homes, when the required isolation period is completed.

Once the flight arrives and all sanitary protocols inside the terminal have been completed, passengers proceed to the transfer area. Transportation must be as well organized as possible to avoid crowding and delays.

Regarding this issue, Luis Ladrón de Guevara Marzal, director of this work at the Ministry of Transportation (Mitrans), reported to the press that the transfer of all travelers arriving in the country from airports to isolation centers, in their provinces of residence, or to hotels, is proceeding as planned and no major problems have emerged.

Toward this end, he explained, a national coordination center, located at José Martí Airport itself, has been established, staffed by members of the Youth Transportation Detachment, as well as provincial coordination centers, with which information is shared to ensure that all arriving passengers reach their destinations.

“We have transferred travelers on all arriving flights, since Saturday (February 6), without incident. Drivers, necessary protective equipment, disinfection of vehicles, and adherence to sanitary protocol measures have all been ensured,” he stated.

The effort involves the participation of the transportation companies Ómnibus Nacionales, Cubataxi, TaxisCuba, Transtur and Transgaviota, among other entities.

Buses travel in caravans, escorted by the National Revolutionary Police, from the moment they leave Havana to provincial borders, where local authorities assume the responsibility of providing security to their final destinations.

Ladrón de Guevara indicated that, for longer journeys, logistics were coordinated with the Ministry of Domestic Commerce, to arrange stops at different points along the way, for passengers to purchase food and use restrooms. For this purpose, sites with adequate hygienic conditions were identified in Cienfuegos, Camagüey, Granma and Santiago de Cuba, and have been prepared to meet travelers’ needs during a short stop along the road.

(Taken from Granma)

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