Cuba hopes vaccination will cushion health system from Omicron

Havana, Jan 12 (EFE).- Cuba is facing the latest, Omicron-driven wave of the Covid-19 pandemic with one of the world’s highest vaccination rates and a health system that was pushed to the edge of collapse by the Delta variant of the virus.

Daily case numbers are the highest in three months and nearly 2,800 new infections were detected in the last 24 hours, authorities said Wednesday.

Amilcar Perez-Riverol, a Cuban molecular biologist now with Sao Paulo State University in Brazil, told Efe he expects Cuba’s experience with Omicron to resemble that of Denmark, where the rise in cases has not been accompanied by a commensurate increase in hospitalizations and deaths.

Omicron is already the dominant Covid-19 variant on the island., according to Maria Guadalupe Guzman, head of research and diagnostics at Cuba’s Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine.

Cuba, she told Efe, “is better prepared than many other nations to confront the current surge,” thanks to a vaccination campaign targeting everyone 2 years old and up.

Last summer, Cuba was contending with an average of more than 9,000 new cases a day and nearly 100 deaths every 24 hours. The Caribbean nation of 11.2 million people came to have the highest incidence of infection in the Americas, with 1,316 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants.

The surge caused by the Delta variant of Covid-19 threatened to overwhelm Cuban hospitals amid shortages of oxygen and basic medical supplies aggravated by the US economic embargo against the Communist island.

As much as Cubans suffered during the Delta wave, Perez-Riverol suggested a possible silver lining in the form of medium-term immunity for the large number of people who had coronavirus and recovered.

Given that Omicron appears to cause less severe illness than Delta and that around 87 percent of Cubans have had at least one dose of vaccine, this latest wave may not have the same devastating impact, the scientist said.

Looking at the minus side of the ledger, Perez-Riverol points to Cuba’s shortage of N95 masks – considered the most effective in preventing infection – and to the economic fragility that excludes even the possibility of returning to lockdowns or reversing November’s re-opening to international tourists.

And the Cuban government, even as it touts success on the vaccine front, is signaling caution.

“With the Omicron variant, we cannot be complacent about anything,” Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said recently during a meeting with public health officials. EFE lh/dr

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