by Yosley Carrero
HAVANA, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- Local government in Havana announced new restrictive measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as 550 new cases were logged nationwide on Wednesday, setting a new daily record for the sixth day in a row.
These restrictions are introduced as the country's capital is experiencing its sharpest rise in infections since the first three COVID-19 cases were reported on the island in March 2020.
Under the new rules, schools across the Cuban capital will be closed starting Jan. 14 while thousands of students will take televised lessons broadcast on Canal Havana, the local TV channel.
Diego Santiago Delbert, a 9-year-old boy from Havana's Camilo Cienfuegos district, enjoys attending school, but he said it is necessary to stay at home until things get better.
"I really prefer in-person classes, but I understand that it is not possible at the moment," he told Xinhua via phone. "The virus will not stick around forever."
In addition, public transport across the city's metropolitan area will be suspended from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. in a bid to slow the movement of people during night hours.
Yamila Rodriguez, a 36-year-old mother living in central Havana, said these measures will contribute to addressing the health emergency in the country's most populous city.
"I have decided to stockpile for this period, so that I would not have to venture out," she said. "It is the moment to stay local."
New measures also include reinforcement of checkpoints on borders between the capital and the rest of the island as of Friday, while cargo trucks transporting food will still be permitted to enter Havana.
Meanwhile, eateries and restaurants citywide will be offering takeaways as well as food delivery services, abiding by safety protocols and rigorous cleaning procedures.
Although a night-time curfew has not been imposed, social gatherings after 7 p.m. at parks, squares and public areas during night hours have been banned.
Francisco Duran, national director of epidemiology at the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, said that breaches of social distancing rules and COVID-19 guidance are the principal causes of the current outbreak.
"The Cuban people have had the capacity to go through difficult moments. I have no doubt that with participation of the people we will overcome the coronavirus pandemic," he said on TV.
Pharmacies, stores, banks and gas stations remain open as essential services and strategic economic areas continue operating as the country is implementing a monetary overhaul.
Earlier this month, bars, night clubs, gyms and swimming pools were closed while cultural activities and events were suspended.
Havana's Jose Marti International Airport continues receiving regular commercial flights as foreign passengers are required to have negative PCR test results certified by health institutions from their countries.
According to the island authorities, at present, some 6,262 international travelers are visiting Havana, and more than 14,600 Havana residents stay under epidemiological surveillance at their communities.
Havana, the country's epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, has so far recorded the majority of confirmed cases over the past two weeks, followed by the provinces of Matanzas, Santiago and Villa Clara.
Residents in the Cuban capital have been told to stay home as much as possible to minimize the risk of contagion as social organizations are working at the community level to raise public awareness about the importance of self-protection and individual responsibility.
"Life has changed after the coronavirus pandemic. It is indispensable to be cautious and patient," said 49-year-old Pedro Rodriguez while hailing a taxi.
So far, Cuba has registered 16,044 cases and 158 deaths.