Cuba will quarantine foreign tourists from today when it seals its borders to guard against the spread of the new coronavirus, the prime minister said Monday, in a move cutting one of the communist country's few revenue sources.
"All tourists still in hotels will be placed in quarantine… They cannot leave the hotel" until they find a flight home, Manuel Marrero said on state TV, adding that there were 32,500 holidaymakers from overseas on the Caribbean island on Monday.
Some of them rushed to the airport in Havana Monday, anxious about their chances of finding a flight — many are already full and carriers have started canceling routes.
Economically crippled by US sanctions, Cuba is largely dependent on its tourism revenue.
Until now, Cuba had bucked the regional trend of closing its borders to foreigners.
That generated heavy criticism from a worried population where 20 percent are over 60 and there are often cuts in the water supply and a lack of soap.
Regularly washing hands has been one of the main pieces of advice that health authorities have given to help people avoid contracting the virus.
But now only citizens and foreign residents will be allowed to enter the country, which has so far counted 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Car rentals and tour excursions have also been canceled.
"Next week no tourists" will enter the country, said Marrero, adding that almost all hotels on the island would close.
Of the 32,500 tourists already on the island, 9,400 are staying in homestays. According to the government, they will be moved to state-run hotels.
Authorities on Monday also announced one-month-long school closures, an unprecedented move not seen since the 1959 revolution made education and health two of the country's main pillars.
And Cubans themselves may not leave the island without authorization, except for their own health, the prime minister said.
A 61-year-old Italian tourist has been Cuba's only coronavirus death so far, and all of the country's other cases have been among foreigners or those who have had close contact with known cases.
Authorities have assured Cubans the virus is so far not circulating locally.