Havana: One step closer to a new normality

After nine months, the Cuban capital seems to be marching towards a new normality, although gradually, since the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic still persists, as it does throughout the island.

For entrepreneurs and business owners, this is long-awaited news, since this sector, where about 13% of the country’s labor force is concentrated, has been one of the most affected by the restrictions and closures to curb the spread of the virus

Government authorities explained that, after a year and a half, it is necessary to reactivate the capital’s economic and social life. In order to decide on the reopening, the health situation in Havana was evaluated, where a favorable evolution has been seen in the last seven weeks, with the daily average for new COVID cases dropping from 1,900 to about 450.

A total of 533 businesses, under different forms of management, will resume their traditional activities. Gastronomic services will be provided until 9:30 p.m., and for this reason, the authorities have ordered the curfew in the city be moved to 10:30 p.m. onwards.

The announcement was made suddenly, on the evening of September 24, accompanied by a list of premises authorized to reopen, taking into account the ventilation and safety conditions of each one.

But it is not enough just to appear on the list. The services authorized to begin serving the public in their premises are subject to a sanitary inspection, can only work with fifty percent of their capacity, and must comply with distancing measures of two meters between each table, in addition to prior reservation, to avoid queues and crowds.

This is how the reopening has been experienced, for example, at the Paseo Marítimo area on 1st and 70th Streets, in Playa municipality. Manuel Valle, administrator of this Local Development project, assures that in each of the restaurants and premises of the coastal promenade, strict sanitary protocols are complied with, although people have not always been as disciplined as they should be, especially over the past weekend.

“In the premises we guarantee that the workers wear their masks, that there are disinfectant liquids at the entrance, the distance between tables, the quality and hygiene of the food, besides the fact that this is an open area, next to the sea, which offers safety guarantees, but if people do not comply with their part we run the risk of closing again if the cases begin to rise,” he warns.

Rigoberto Pérez, one of the clients who visits the Paseo, stresses that the reopening was very necessary and that there is a level of security due to the vaccination rate. He says it is necessary to learn to live with the pandemic, while seeking economic improvements for all.

“We need to find a balance. There is a lot of indiscipline on the part of the population, there are protocols, established measures, and we must comply with them, to avoid the situation becoming complicated again with the pandemic.”

However, others have been more cautious, such as Esteban Cobo, owner of La Cocina de Esteban restaurant in the heart of Havana’s Vedado district, who says he is still looking for raw materials and supplies to guarantee a stable menu once the restaurant reopens.

“Soon we will be welcoming customers back to the restaurant. It was about time for this reopening, there are many countries that already opened this type of service some time back, even in the Caribbean, and Cuba has many more conditions in place to ensure that once it opens it will comply with everything that is established. Besides, there have been many months where we have been generating practically no income, only expenses, and if this situation had continued for just two more months, we would have had to close.”

Thus, Havana residents seem to be gradually returning to their daily lives, in a scenario that cannot yet be defined as post-COVID-19, but where it will be necessary to learn to live with the virus in order to maintain the vitality of services and recover the economy.

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