World News

Cuban capital to ease lockdown, joins rest of the country

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba said on Wednesday it will begin easing a pandemic lockdown on Havana on Friday, while most of the rest of the country will move to phase two of a three-phase process towards normalization.

The capital’s 2.2 million residents will once more be able to move around on public and private transport, go to the beach and other recreation centers, and enjoy a seaside drive just in time for the summer break. They can also dine and have a drink, although social distancing and wearing masks remain mandatory. Optional medical and other services will also resume.

Only a handful of COVID-19 cases were reported in Cuba last month, all but a few in Havana. Most of the Caribbean island, home to 11.2 million inhabitants, has been free of the disease for more than a month.

Each phase of the reopening allows capacity at venues to increase from an initial 50 percent. Interprovincial transportation begins during phase two, while phase three includes schools reopening.

On Wednesday the country opened a group of isolated resort keys to international tourism. Phase three broadens international travel depending on risk.

The lockdown began in March and, except for the western province of Matanzas and Havana, moved to phase one of normalization two weeks ago. Matanzas entered phase one a week ago.

The Communist-run country has been given high marks for its textbook handling of the pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Cuba’s robust and free community based health system, door to door search for carriers, isolation of the sick, suspected cases and contacts allowed it to keep the number of cases under 2,500. Its recovery and mortality rates are also much better than international and regional norms.

Reporting by Marc Frank; editing by Richard Pullin