"Finding a medicine today is almost a miracle," says María Elena while she waits, card her hand, in line at a pharmacy in a José Martí District shopping centre in Santiago de Cuba to see if any of the medications prescribed for her have arrived.
"There's not even any aspirin or paracetamol to fight a simple fever. If the coronavirus arrives, it is going to take half the town. They haven't even been able to eradicate dengue, which has been around for 40 years."
María Elena is retired, and going to the pharmacy every Tuesday or Wednesday has become a kind of job, as those are the days when medications arrive. "If you don't do it like that, you don't get anything. Last week, to buy chlordiazepoxide, four police officers had to come to organize the line. Without any medication, how are we going to get better?"
In the streets of Santiago, life goes on. Security measures are seen at the airport, where all Immigration officers and Customs agents use a mask that covers the nose and mouth. There the control is stricter for travellers from countries having suffered cases of the virus.
Arianna Justiz resides in Italy, from whence she arrived on February 27 to visit her mother, brother and two nephews. "When I arrived in Santiago de Cuba the Immigration authorities reported it, and at night I was visited by several doctors," she said. "In the morning the family doctor came, and it has like this for all these days. Today I had to go to the Josué País del Micro 3 Polyclinic, at the Abel Santa María facility, to get a blood count done."
According to Cuban authorities, no cases of coronavirus have been confirmed on the island to date.
"Travelers from Europe undergo rigorous monitoring and, upon the slightest suspicion of a lack of air, they immediately proceed with their admission and referral to the Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK)," said Abel Kindelán, a specialist in Epidemiology.
"Luckily, for us, the Chinese have managed to control the virus with Cuban interferon."
According to Dania, a resident in the Los Pinos neighborhood and also a retiree, the worrisome thing is not only the lack of medicines, but also the shortage of hygiene products, and poor nutrition. "At this time I think that our defenses are low, all of us, there is no meat or pork, and there is no fruit, so anemia must be affecting a large percentage of Cubans. With these low defenses, if the coronavirus hits it is going to take, at least, all the old people."
For the population, coronavirus is not their biggest concern, because of their more immediate need to get something to eat. Enduring the exhausting day-to-day struggle for food and hygiene consumes the energy of the people of Santiago, prompting a joke on in the streets: for now, what we Cubans have is colanovirus (linevirus) because we spend our days in line.