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Russian tourists, cadets and infected doctors: how information about Covid-19 is distorted in Cuba

Although the government insists that its reports are accurate and credible, the facts belie this

Conference of Cuban MINSAP authorities.
Conference of Cuban MINSAP authorities. WHO

Despite the fact that the Government of Cuba insists that its reports on the epidemiological situation caused by Covid-19 are accurate and credible, examples abound showing that the information disclosed distorts case statistics and hides the severity of outbreaks.

Last week, in its official report, the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) reported the existence of 11 Russian citizens who had tested positive for the disease. The document stated that this group was made up of "residents of the municipality of Morón," in Ciego de Ávila.

The report coincided with the arrival of more than 400 Russian tourists hours before at the Jardines del Rey Airport in Cayo Coco, in the municipality itself, where it sparked dismay and questions among various people.

"I didn't know there were so many Russians in Morón. It's a lie. It was the Russians travelling to the Keys, enough lying," said a user identified as YaiPF on the Facebook wall of the local channel Televisión Avileña.

"Once more camouflaged information and half-truths, verging on lies. As has been the case many times in recent months, the people's comments are clearer and more truthful than those in the local press. The entire country knows of the commencement of flights taking Russian tourists to the northern keys. Then, miraculously, TV Avileña comes out with news of the settlement of a Russian community in Morón, about which local residents had been oblivious", complained user José Androv BO.

At the end of October the MINSAP reported an outbreak of the virus in Caimito, Artemisa; although it did not offer any other details, the age of the patients, and the fact that they all had the same number of contacts, led to the suspicion that it was an internal school.

This was corroborated on October 23 by the official Periódico Artemisa (newspaper) on its Facebook wall, when, in response to a request for details from a forum, it replied: "We only know that they are related to the Cadets' School"; that is, the Antonio Maceo Inter-weapons School, one of the largest of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) in the entire country.

A day later the publication deleted its comment. The MINSAP, meanwhile, only reported a few more cases of the Caimito outbreak in the following days, and no new ones in all of November. The official report initially stated that the patients had 189 contacts each.

Likewise, regarding the outbreak in the Canaleta Prison, in Ciego de Ávila, which adds more than 200 confirmed cases since the official newspaper Invasor in that province recognized its existence, the MINSAP has not offered any details. Only the local press has offered some limited information about the situation there.

This practice of information suppression and manipulation has been flagrant in relation to cases of doctors on "official missions" who return to Cuba infected.

In September a Cuban doctor who returned from Venezuela, and a worker from the island's health system, were among the Covid-19 cases registered in Havana, although this fact was not announced by the MINSAP, but rather by the official newspaper Tribuna de La Habana, after reviewing a meeting of the Provincial Defense Council.

The Ministry had been reporting cases of the disease among Cubans returning from Venezuela until the beginning of August. After that point, as there were dozens of nationals infected coming from that South American nation, the health authorities stopped specifying the countries of origin of cases from abroad.

Added to the misinformation are the official media, mostly incapable of offering details about the epidemiological situation, which Cubans constantly ask for, to protect themselves.

Last week user Yudanis Rodríguez wrote on the Facebook wall of the official newspaper of Pinar del Río Guerrillero: "I have been asking for days about whether the cases in Las Ovas are the same or different", in reference to a positive report in the official daily report by the popular council of that capital city.

The publication simply responded: "We have no information at this time. You can write to the Provincial Health Directorate."

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