HAVANA (Reuters) - In much of Cuba, restaurants welcomed back customers on Thursday while families escaped cities for the beaches as the government started to ease the Caribbean island’s three-month-old lockdown restrictions after curbing the coronavirus outbreak there.
Only the capital and neighboring Matanzas province have reported new cases in recent weeks.
The government has authorized activity to resume in the rest of the country, to the delight of Cubans tired of staying at home, although some businesses complain that shortages of basic goods that worsened in the wake of the pandemic are hampering a return to normal.
“It’s a relief to be able to go out, especially for the children who worried me the most,” said Lisandra Hernandez, on a beach in Artemisa, the province just west of Havana, with her husband and two young children. “We go to the supermarket, run errands but the kids have been stuck indoors for three months, without setting foot outside.”
Cuba closed its borders, suspended public transport and schools, and banned onsite dining at restaurants when the novel coronavirus started to spread there. Citizens were ordered to stay at home except for work or essential tasks.
Last week, the government said it would start to ease its lockdown although face masks would remain mandatory in public spaces and schools would only resume in September.
On Wednesday, it said international tourism, a key source of hard currency, would re-start in July albeit only with travelers arriving via charter flights and tested upon arrival for the coronavirus.
The absence of tourism has further dented an economy already struggling with a decline in Venezuelan aid and tighter U.S. sanctions. Shortages of even basic goods have worsened.
In Artemisa, the capital of Artemisa province, several owners of private businesses, which in Cuba do not have access to wholesale stores, complained of a lack of supplies, hampering a return to normality.
Raul Jimenez said his private cafeteria lacked staple items like ham and bread for sandwiches so was limited largely to selling fresh fruit juices.
“We have basically nothing to offer,” he said.
Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Christopher Cushing