Feature: Cuban airports strengthen COVID-19 protocols amid peak tourist season

Source: Xinhua| 2020-12-24 11:10:21|Editor: huaxia

by Yosley Carrero

CIEGO DE AVILA, Cuba, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) -- Dr. Dayan Meneces, 46, works as the head of sanitary control at Cuba's Jardines del Rey International Airport, which mainly serves seaside resorts of Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo.

Like him, thousands of frontline workers guarantee strict fulfillment of nationwide safety protocols in place at the airports' security checkpoints to detect travelers with COVID-19 symptoms and reduce potential exposure of the work force to the virus.

Meneces, who lives in the central town of Moron with his family, has changed his daily routine since the airport reopened in September with a plane carrying international tourists from Canada.

Donning a N95 mask, he says that "as the Cuban economy heavily depends on tourism," procedures implemented at Jardines del Rey airport will help the country earn hard currencies and keep the COVID-19 pandemic "at bay."

"Doctors and nurses play a critical role in the governmental strategy to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic," he told Xinhua, adding that they are keeping their eyes "wide open in search of symptoms such as cough and fever."

Cuba gradually reopened borders in early July for tourists interested in visiting the northern and southern parts of the country for quarantine-free beach holidays.

In a normal year, the tourism industry accounts for nearly 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product, and Canadians and Cubans living abroad are its largest markets.

In the northern keys of the central province of Ciego de Avila, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo remain as resort bubbles, where international tourists, mainly from Russia and Canada, fly directly.

On the arrival, passengers are subjected to temperature checks and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, and required to maintain a two-meter distance from each other and pay attention to tensile barriers and floor-markings within the queueing area.

Aside from normal procedures such as removing personal items from their pockets, foreign tourists are provided with disinfectant solutions before and after the screening process.

"Staff members are provided with face coverings, protective goggles, face shields, gloves. We have all we need to do our work properly with minimum risks," said 32-year-old Leyanis Gutierrez, a microbiologist at the airport.

The airport canceled operations in late March after the island's aviation authorities suspended the arrival of international passengers to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic nationwide.

Mario Antonio Hernandez, director general at the airport, told Xinhua that Cuban airports and hotel facilities are working together to guarantee strict fulfilment of sanitary measures in the country.

"We have received more than 7,000 international tourists since Sept. 4 ... We are working hard to offer a high-quality service at the airport and expect to gradually increase the number of arrivals in the coming weeks," he said.

Currently, airports in all provinces are in operation while the island has repeatedly broken its single day COVID-19 case record again over the past few weeks. To date, Cuba has registered 10,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus with 139 deaths.

At Jardines del Rey International Airport, more than 100 workers, including health professionals, logistic cargo personnel and custom officers, are deployed to ensure the safe arrival of passengers to virus-free resorts.

"We spray the luggage with hypochlorite solutions and advise passengers to wash their hands and adjust their facemasks before getting on the bus," said 49-year-old Raudel Mendez, a coach driver at state-run company Transtur taking tourists from the airport to hotel facilities. Enditem