Nothing has marked 2020 more than the COVID-19 pandemic. In the world and also in Cuba. It has been long months of fear and death, of adaptation and effort, of shock and hope. And it still seems a long way from the end of this unexpected and painful story.
The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has changed existence as we knew it, it has turned an already convulsed and unequal planet upside down, and has forced humanity to pull itself together, to concentrate its efforts in the same direction, to rethink its works and conceptions, to value day by day the immeasurable treasure that health and life constitute.
Cuba can boast of its achievements in confronting the pandemic; of the great work of its doctors, scientists, authorities, volunteers; of its successful protocols and health strategies; of its low, contained figures, if compared with those of almost the whole world; of its contributions to other nations to face the disease; but it cannot be satisfied with this.
Since March, 11,687 people have been infected on the island and 145 have died from COVID-19.* This is not news to celebrate, although more than 10,000 have already recovered and Cuban medicine and science have avoided more victims with their drugs and effective treatments. The sadness, the losses suffered, cannot be erased.
2021 looms on the horizon with a veil of uncertainty and optimism. While the coronavirus does not stop its gallop―it has already infected more than 82 million people and caused 1.79 million deaths worldwide**―, the scientific community is preparing and distributing its vaccines and multiplying its studies with its mind set on defeating it. And although it is difficult to know what will happen after so many advances and backward steps, new outbreaks and de-escalation, the experience, the memory of what we lived this year remains, however, as a scar with which we will have to learn to live if we want to head towards the future.
From that memory, OnCuba then offers you a look at 10 of the main moments of COVID-19 on the island, followed by a chronology of these more than nine months of pandemic. May they serve as evidence of the complex scenario that Cubans have had to deal with throughout 2020.
1- First cases reported in Cuba
The first positive cases in the country were reported by Cuban authorities on March 11, the same day that the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus pandemic. They were three Italian tourists staying in Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus province, the first of the hundreds of foreigners detected in Cuba to date.
A day later, the first Cuban infected was registered: a young man from the city of Santa Clara infected by his wife, a Bolivian who arrived days ago from Lombardy, Italy. Since then, more than 10,000 people born on the island―among those who have been ill from abroad and those who have been infected on the island―have been reported with the disease by the Cuban health authorities.
2- First deceased and first recovered
Just a week after reporting its first infections, Cuba suffered its first fatality from COVID-19. On March 18, a 61-year-old Italian tourist died, one of the first three confirmed cases on the island, which began a regrettable saga that has left 145 deaths in the country to date.
Shortly after, on the 24th, the first Cuban infected by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was discharged after overcoming the disease. After him, 10,003 patients have already recovered, more than 85% of those who have been infected in Cuba, after the mandatory hospitalization and treatment dictated by medical protocols for all COVID-19 patients detected in Cuba.
3- Evacuation of the British cruise ship MS Braemar
In a coordinated move between the authorities of Cuba and the United Kingdom, and described as successful by both parties, on March 18 the cruise ship MS Braemar, of the Fred Olsen company, docked in the port of Mariel, with five confirmed cases of COVID -19 on board and a group of people isolated for presenting suspicious symptoms.
The evacuation on the island of the nearly 700 passengers, following strict sanitary protocols, attracted worldwide attention after several countries in the region denied entry to the ship.
Finally, after a long day, the cruise passengers left for London from the Havana airport, where they had been transferred in caravans from the port of Mariel, while part of the crew remained in the care of the ship until their departure from Cuba.
4- Border closure
After the increase in positive cases on the island, the Cuban government decided to close the country’s borders as of April 2. As of that day, the entry of commercial and charter flights, as well as foreign vessels, with the exception of humanitarian and cargo operations, was suspended. This measure remained in force until mid-October, with the exception of the airports of the tourist destinations, officially reopened since July, and Havana, which did not resume its regular operations until November 15.
This provision had been preceded by a partial closure for foreign tourism, in force since March 24, while a mandatory 14-day quarantine was established for Cubans and foreigners residing in Cuba arriving from abroad.
This was part of a package of government measures that also included the interruption of interprovincial passenger transportation and the temporary suspension of classes.
5- First peak
It happened in April, the direst month of the first wave of the pandemic in Cuba. After the registration of the first cases in March, the fourth month of the year brought an explosion of infections throughout the country―which caused the authorities to officially decree the passage to the stage of limited autochthonous transmission only on the 7th―and several of the negative records of COVID-19 on the island.
In April, Cuba surpassed 1,000 positive cases―a total of 1,325 infected were detected in that month, a figure that, however, would be exceeded during the outbreaks of the disease in the second half of the year―58 people died―by far the most lethal month to date―, there was a cap of active cases in one day (847) that would only be exceeded in December, and also of deaths (6) and critical cases (12) in one day. As positive news, the country exceeded 500 recovered patients and also 2,000 PCR tests in one day to detect the coronavirus.
6- First de-escalation
After three months of pandemic, Cuba began its first de-escalation on June 18. As announced days before by President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, the transition to the recovery stage was made gradually, with the entry of almost the entire country into the first phase, except for Havana and Matanzas, which would do so later. Then the Cuban provinces would continue to change phase, except for the capital, which would soon experience a outbreak.
The de-escalation began in the midst of a scenario of epidemiological control and a slowdown in infections―active cases would drop to less than 100, those confirmed per day would even reach zero, as would the number of serious and critical patients―and meant the restart of a group of activities, such as national and foreign tourism only in designated places, interprovincial and urban transportation, restaurants and other services, although classes continued to be suspended until September.
7- First outbreak
Havana’s first step through the recovery stage would be brief. The Cuban capital remained in the first phase for barely a month before regressing again to that of limited autochthonous transmission, on August 7, due to a rapid growth in cases and outbreaks of COVID-19. But it wouldn’t do it alone. Other provinces and localities would also regress for two months that would put the country under tension again.
Artemisa, Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila and Sancti Spíritus would be among the territories most affected by a outbreak in which active and daily cases grew again―the rate of positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 15 days reached a record of 7.97, although that number would be far exceeded in December―, the death toll exceeded one hundred and the country registered its highest number of patients in ICUs, with 25. In addition, interprovincial transportation was again paralyzed and harsh restrictions were imposed in Havana, including a night curfew, although classrooms reopened in most of the island.
8- Take off of Cuban vaccines
While COVID-19 multiplied its painful statistics in Cuba again, the beginning of the clinical trials of the first Cuban vaccine candidate against the coronavirus, on August 24, represented a breath of hope. Soberana 01, the pioneering project of the Finlay Vaccine Institute, officially registered 10 days before, began its first phase of human trials with 40 volunteers, and then, in a second phase, involving around 700.
So far, according to its creators, the trials have passed without significant adverse effects, while a reformulation of the vaccine, named Soberana 01A, began to be tested in October, and in November, a second vaccine candidate from the Finlay Institute: Soberana 02, which would also be the first to enter the second phase of clinical trials. These projects are joined by others developed by the Havana Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, of which Mambisa and Abdala are the most advanced, as part of a scientific endeavor that seeks to initiate the immunization of the Cuban population in 2021.
9- The “new normal”
The so-called “new normal” began on October 12 in most of the Cuban provinces, except in Havana, which entered phase 3 of the recovery stage, and Ciego de Ávila and Sancti Spíritus, which were still in limited autochthonous transmission. It is an updating of the Cuban government’s strategy to confront COVID-19, which seeks to reactivate the social life and economy of the country, hard hit after eight months of pandemic.
The reopening of the borders, with the resumption of regular flights and international tourist activity―although it had already begun previously in the keys adjacent to the island―, the reestablishment of interprovincial transportation and a group of economic activities and services, and the beginning of the new school year in most of the territories were among the actions implemented, while the authorities appealed to self-responsibility to stop the spread of the coronavirus and maintain control of the disease.
10- Second outbreak at the end of the year
It was presumable that with the opening of the borders and the restart of regular flights, cases of coronavirus would increase in Cuba, despite the measures established in the government’s strategy against the disease. This, together with an explosive formula of social relaxation and indiscipline, has caused a sustained growth of infections in recent weeks, with a dispersion that has once again reached all Cuban provinces and has put the epidemiological scenario of the island in tension.
In this way, December surpassed the barrier of 3,000 cases and became the month with the most infections detected in the country since the start of the pandemic. In addition, it set new records in the number of new infections (229) and active cases (1,486) in one day, and the rate of positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 15 days, among other negative indicators, which forced the authorities to impose restrictions and taking backward steps in some territories, and to announce new measures for border control to curb the increase in imported cases, the main culprits for the outbreak.
Chronology COVID-19 in Cuba:
Day 11- Cuba reports its first positive cases: three Italian tourists detected while staying in the city of Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus province, the same day that the WHO officially declares the coronavirus pandemic.
12- First Cuban infected: a young man living in the city of Santa Clara infected by his wife, a Bolivian who arrived days ago from Lombardy, Italy.
16- The first case is reported in Havana: a 63-year-old man living in the municipality of Diez de Octubre who had previously returned from Spain.
18- Cuba reports its first death: a 61-year-old Italian tourist, one of the first three confirmed positive cases on the island.
18- Evacuation in the port of Mariel of the British cruise ship MS Braemar, with five confirmed cases of COVID-19 on board and a group of isolated people with suspicious symptoms.
Travelers depart for London from Havana airport.
18- The Cuban government announces the cancellation of all ceremonies, rallies, events and historical commemorations of a massive nature.
20- Cuba evacuates an American visitor and decides to close its borders to tourism as of the
24th. Cubans and resident foreigners who arrive on the island must pass a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
24- The Cuban government suspends the school year for a month and interprovincial passenger transportation.
24- The first recovered patient is reported: the Cuban resident in Santa Clara, the first case of a national.
27- Cuba has more than one hundred positive cases and active cases.
28- The Cuban Minister of Public Health reports the first local transmission event in the country, in the municipality of Cárdenas, Matanzas, generated from an entertainer at a hotel in Varadero infected by Italian tourists.
29- Cubans begin to applaud health personnel at 9:00 at night.
31- The Cuban government announces the suspension of all air and maritime passenger traffic as of April 2, as well as the cancellation of the May Day parade.
31- The community of Consolación del Sur, in Pinar del Río, applies the first local quarantine in the country.
2- The El Carmelo People’s Council, in Vedado, is isolated, the first area with restrictive measures in Havana.
3- For the first time, more than 1,000 PCR tests are performed in one day in Cuba.
6- Cuba exceeds ten deaths and registers its highest number of critical patients in one day, with 12.
7- The Cuban authorities announce that the island passes to the stage of limited autochthonous transmission.
8- Cuba registers more than 500 infections and 15 deaths.
10- Cuba exceeds 500 active cases.
10- Higher education entrance exams are postponed “until the coronavirus health situation (caused by the pandemic) allows it.”
11- The suspension of urban, inter-municipal and rural public transportation, both state and
private, enters into force.
12- Cuba exceeds 100 recovered patients. For the first time, more than 2,000 PCR tests are
performed in one day.
16- A transmission event is reported in a home for the elderly in the city of Santa Clara, the first in a social institution.
17- The Ministry of Education announces that the school year will not be resumed in classrooms and classes will continue on television.
18- Cuba exceeds 1,000 positive cases.
23- Cuba registers six deaths, the highest figure for one day.
24- Cuba exceeds 50 deaths and registers its record of active cases in one day: 847.
26- Cuba exceeds 500 recovered patients.
1- Cuba registers its highest number of asymptomatic cases in one day: 65.
5- Cuba surpasses 1,000 recovered patients.
5- The Ministry of Public Health announces the beginning of an investigation to study the seroprevalence (presence of antibodies) and prevalence of COVID-19 in Cuba.
9- Cuba drops to less than 500 active cases.
22- All patients from the transmission event reported in a Santa Clara nursing home are discharged. It left a balance of 19 workers and 47 elderly infected, three of whom died.
25- The first pregnant woman with COVID-19 in Cuba gives birth by cesarean section in Matanzas.
28- Cuba surpasses 2,000 positive cases.
6- Cuba reports 22 infected among the crew of a Cuban merchant ship, which arrived in the province of Matanzas from Mexico.
11- The president and prime minister of Cuba detail on television the progressive plan for the return to normality on the island after almost three months of restrictions.
17- Cuba surpasses 2,000 recovered patients.
18- Cuba begins the first phase of post-COVID-19 recovery, except in the provinces of Havana and Matanzas. National tourism begins.
19- The Ministry of Education announces the restart of the school year on September 1 and the beginning of the new school year two months later.
20- The National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation announces the start of the National Baseball Series on September 12.
23- Cuba registers a single case in the day for the first time since March.
23- Matanzas enters the first phase of post-COVID-19 recovery
24- Cuba reports less than 100 active cases.
24- Varadero beach resort reopens to the public.
25- The province of Mayabeque registers the first case in a territory in de-escalation.
26- Cuba has not registered serious or critical patients for the first time since March.
1- Cuba officially opens its hotel facilities to international tourism in the keys adjacent to the island, although without confirmed visitors.
3- Havana enters the first phase of post-COVID-19 recovery and the rest of the country goes to phase 2, except for the province of Matanzas.
5- For the first time, more than 3,000 PCR tests are performed in one day in Cuba.
7- The first local transmission event opens in Havana, at the Pilar Atarés People’s Council, in Cerro, after the start of the de-escalation.
8- The province of Matanzas enters the second phase of post-COVID-19 recovery and interprovincial transportation in Cuba is resumed, except for routes to Havana.
19- Cuba does not register positive cases for the first time since the beginning of the epidemic and has its lowest number of active cases (38) since March.
20- Cuba begins the third phase of post-COVID-19 recovery, except in Havana and Mayabeque. Artemisa registers an autochthonous case in the municipality of Bauta.
22- A local transmission event opens in areas of the Bauta municipality, the first in the province of Artemisa and outside of Havana after the start of the recovery stage.
27- Active cases in Cuba once again exceed one hundred.
1- The first group of foreign tourists visiting Cuba in the post-COVID-19 stage arrives at Jardines del Rey International Airport.
7- It is announced that Havana regresses to the limited autochthonous transmission phase and Artemisa to phase 2 of the de-escalation, except for the Bauta municipality, which returns to phase 1.
7- Cuba registers its record of imported cases in one day: 40.
8- Transportation between the five western Cuban provinces is restricted, due to the outbreak of the disease.
8- For the first time, more than 4,000 PCR tests are performed in one day in Cuba.
9- Cuba surpasses 3,000 positive cases.
10- Cuba once again exceeds 500 active cases.
17- Cuba reports for the first time more than 100 discharges in one day.
19- For the first time, more than 5,000 PCR tests are performed in one day in Cuba.
21- Cuba surpasses 3,000 recovered patients.
24- Cuba begins clinical trials in humans of its first coronavirus vaccine project, Soberana 01.
26- The province of Ciego de Ávila again reports autochthonous cases, along with other territories in the country.
30- Cuba surpasses 4,000 positive cases.
31- Cuba registers its highest number of patients in ICUs, with 25, 19 of them in serious condition, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
1- The school year resumes in Cuba, except in Havana and in six towns of Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Matanzas and Villa Clara, with local transmission of the disease.
1- A night curfew and other restrictive measures come into force in Havana.
2- Cuba surpasses one hundred deaths.
4- The first group of Canadian tourists since the start of the pandemic arrives in Cayo Coco.
4- For the first time, more than 6,000 PCR tests are performed in one day in Cuba.
5- The Cuban baseball authorities announce that the National Series would begin without an audience in the stadiums.
6- For the first time, more than 7,000 PCR tests are performed in one day in Cuba.
8- The Cuban government decides to return the municipality of Ciego de Ávila to the phase of limited autochthonous transmission with a quarantine measure, and the rest of the province to phase 1 of recovery, in the face of the outbreak of the disease.
8- The province of Sancti Spíritus again reports autochthonous cases of COVID-19, more than four months after its last infections.
9- Cuba registers its record of autochthonous cases in one day: 91.
11- For the first time, more than 8,000 PCR tests are performed in one day in Cuba.
12- The Cuban government announces the suspension of interprovincial transportation from September 14 to September 30, due to the spread of the disease on the island.
13- Cuba surpasses 4,000 recovered patients.
15- The restrictive measures in Havana are extended for 15 more days to control the outbreak of the epidemic.
17- Cuba surpasses 5,000 positive cases.
22- Cuba registers its highest rate of positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 15 days: 7.86.
1- Cuba registers its record of discharges in one day: 156 and surpasses 5,000 recovered patients.
1- The relaxation of the restrictive measures against COVID-19 applied in September in Havana enters into force, including the elimination of the night curfew. The reopening of cultural, gastronomic and recreational facilities, and the reestablishment of urban transportation are announced.
1- The Cuban official media recognizes the existence of COVID-19 cases in La Canaleta prison, in Ciego de Ávila, presumably the first event of infections with the new coronavirus that occurred in a prison since the beginning of the epidemic on the island.
4- Active cases decrease again to less than 500.
5- The province of Sancti Spíritus returns to the phase of limited autochthonous transmission, due to the outbreak of the disease in that territory.
8- The Cuban Ministry of Public Health recognizes the death of four Cuban collaborators as a result of COVID-19 while they were working abroad.
11- Cuba reaches 6,000 positive cases.
12- Most of the Cuban provinces enter the “new normal,” except for Havana, which passes to phase 3 of the recovery stage, and Ciego de Ávila and Sancti Spíritus, which remain in limited autochthonous transmission, after the Cuban government announcement a few days ago of an updating of its strategy to confront COVID-19 with a view to reactivating the country’s socio-economic life.
15- Varadero beach resort officially reopens to international tourism and the restart of commercial flights is officially authorized at all international airports in Cuba, except Havana.
18- The Pinar del Río municipality of Guane returns to the phase of limited autochthonous transmission of COVID-19 after registering an outbreak that forced the imposition of quarantine in several of its people’s councils.
19- The clinical trial of a new formulation of the first Cuban vaccine candidate against COVID-19 begins, under the name of Soberana 01A.
19- Interprovincial transportation is reestablished, except for the provinces in the transmission phase, and the prohibition of the entry and stay in Cuban waters of pleasure boats, including cruise ships, is rendered ineffective.
22- The province of Pinar del Río returns to the phase of limited autochthonous transmission, due to the outbreak of the disease in that territory, the first after the announcement of the new de-escalation and the entry of most of the country into the new normal.
25- Cuba surpasses 6,000 recovered patients.
28- Cuba once again exceeds 500 active cases.
2- Cuba reaches 7,000 positive cases and begins the first phase of clinical trials of the Soberana 02 COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
2- The new school year begins in most of the Cuban provinces, except those that are in the transmission phase. Classes are resumed in Havana to close the previous school period.
3- Cuba registers its record of positive cases in one day: 109.
4- The Cuban drug Itolizumab, developed in conjunction with an Indian company, received authorization to start a phase III clinical trial in patients with COVID-19 in the United States, Mexico and Brazil.
5- Cuba reaches 130 deaths.
6- For the first time, more than 9,000 PCR tests are performed in Cuba in one day.
7- Active cases decrease again to less than 500.
9- Cuba once again surpasses 500 active cases.
10- Active cases decrease again to less than 500.
13- Cuba surpasses 7,000 recovered patients.
15- Quarantine is decreed in the Altamira neighborhood, in the city of Santiago de Cuba, after the opening of a local transmission event of COVID-19.
15- José Martí International Airport in Havana resumes its regular operations. The Cuban authorities announce the collection of a health tax from all international travelers as of December 1.
16- The province of Ciego de Ávila enters the recovery stage, after suffering an intense outbreak of COVID-19 for two months. The main city passes to the second phase of the de-escalation and the rest of the municipalities to the third.
17- Cuba does not register serious or critical patients for the first time since July.
18- The Cuban government approves the passage of the province of Sancti Spíritus to the recovery stage. However, the municipalities of Sancti Spíritus and Cabaiguán remain in the phase of limited autochthonous transmission, while Trinidad passes to phase two and the rest of the municipalities to phase three.
18- Cuba surpasses one million PCR tests performed since the beginning of the pandemic.
19- For the first time in Cuba, more than 10,000 PCR tests are performed in one day.
24- Cuba surpasses 8,000 positive cases.
26- The Cuban regulatory entity authorizes the beginning of clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates Mambisa and Abdala, developed by the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) of Havana.
28- Active cases again exceed 500.
29- For the first time in Cuba, more than 11,000 PCR tests are performed in one day.
1- The province of Sancti Spíritus fully passes to phase three of the recovery stage, after the Cuban government decided its passage to the same phase as the Sancti Spíritus municipalities that were not yet in it.
7- Cuba surpasses 8,000 recovered patients.
8- Cuba surpasses 9,000 positive cases.
9- Cuban authorities affirm that the 2019-2020 school year ended on the island without reports of transmission of COVID-19.
10- A health donation sent by Cubans residing in the United States arrives in Cuba.
11- The Cuban government establishes the passage of the province of Sancti Spíritus to the new normal, except for the municipality of Cabaiguán, which remains in phase three of the recovery stage. In addition, de-escalation begins in several municipalities of Pinar del Río, although the province remains in transmission.
16- Five cases of coronavirus are reported in the Industriales team, which would later be joined by another six, in the first transmission event reported in a National Baseball Series team.
16- The province of Ciego de Ávila goes to the new normal due to the improvement of its epidemiological indicators, while the provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos regress to phase three of the recovery stage.
18- Cuba surpasses 10,000 positive cases and performs for the first time more than 12,000 PCR tests in one day.
19- Cuba surpasses 9,000 recovered patients.
20- For the first time in Cuba, more than 14,000 PCR tests are performed in one day.
21- Active cases exceed 1,000 for the first time.
22- The Finlay Vaccine Institute announces the start of the second phase of clinical trials of its vaccine candidate Soberana 02, the first on the island and Latin America to reach that stage.
22- The province of Pinar del Río passes to phase one of the recovery stage, although its municipalities are at different times of the de-escalation and even in the new normal, while Sandino remains in limited autochthonous transmission.
23- Cuba surpasses 200 infections detected in one day for the first time and registers its cap of autochthonous cases in one day (116).
24- The Cuban authorities announce that PCR tests with a negative result for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus will be required of travelers from abroad as of January 10, 2021.
24- Cuba reaches 140 deaths.
25- Cuba surpasses 11,000 positive cases.
27- Cuba registers its record of infections in one day, with 229, and also its highest numbers of asymptomatic cases (189) and imported cases (136) in one day.
28- The Cuban authorities announce they will reduce the entry of travelers from six nations (United States, Mexico, Panama, Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic), with the aim of curbing the increase in imported cases of COVID-19.
28- Cuba surpasses 1,500 active cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic and records its record for this indicator in one day (1,573).
29- Cuba reaches 145 deaths and surpasses 10,000 patients recovered from COVID-19 (10,003).
* Official figures until December 29, 2029, according to the Cuban Ministry of Public Health.
** Figures managed by Johns Hopkins University, United States.