Havana, Aug 1 (EFE) .- Cuba received its first foreign tourists this Saturday since the closing of the borders last April by COVID-19, an expected news that comes a month after the island officially reopened its keys to international travelers.
The revival of tourism, one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic in the Caribbean country, is key to reviving the battered Cuban economy, highly dependent on the income left by foreign visitors.
The arrival of the flight, from the Bahamas, was announced on Twitter by the island’s Ministry of Tourism (Mintur), which did not offer details on the number of passengers or their nationalities.
“Cayo Santa María and Cayo Coco enjoy the first international tourists, after the reopening after COVID-19. From these poles, visitors were received with the implementation of the necessary protocols to guarantee their safety and satisfaction,” Mintur said.
Cuban Tourism authorities recently certified several hotels as “safe facilities” and ready to receive guests, with sanitary conditions that include carrying out PCR tests at the border and medical follow-up in each accommodation.
Health protocols also establish one-week shifts and then the same isolated time at home for hotel staff, who will be given rapid tests and will be required to wear the mask at all times.
At the moment, foreign visitors will travel on charter flights and will only stay in the paradisiacal Cayos Largo, Guillermo, Coco, Cruz and Santa María, located to the south and north of the Big Island.
The latter will operate exclusively with local tourists – who in turn cannot access the keys – until the third and final phase of the reopening plan is established throughout the country.
Cuba fulfilled this Saturday Cuba three weeks without deaths from COVID-19, amid a spike in infections by the virus, which to date leaves a total of 2,633 patients on the island, 90% of them already recovered. So far the death count remains at 87.
The increase in the number of positives has caused Havana to remain stagnant in phase 1 of the de-escalation since last July 3, while the rest of the country is already in phase 3, with the exception of the nearby province of Mayabeque in Phase 2.
TOURISM WITHOUT BORDER OPENING
Although the opening of borders is included within the measures of the last stage of reopening, the Cuban government decided not to resume regular flights until the capital, the main gateway to the country, has not advanced to the last phase.
Since the Cuban authorities decreed the closure of the borders on April 2 as part of the measures to prevent the spread of COVID, the international ones have been cut off on the island, except for humanitarian and merchandise flights and to transfer medical brigades to other countries.
The border closure has been used to carry out repairs and improvements to hotel facilities and to the country’s 19 airports, including the one that serves the Jardines del Rey area.
Tourism is the second economic area for Cuba behind the sale of professional services abroad, it contributes around 10% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs approximately half a million people in the state sector.
For this year, Cuba expected to receive 4.5 million international visitors and reverse the 9.3% drop in 2019, when 4.2 million tourists traveled to the country, 436,352 less than in 2018, according to official data.
(c) EFE Agency