Barbara Moser on COVID-19: As here, Cuba struggles to get a handle on coronavirus

Hi Dear Readers,

Now more than ever, with so much uncertainty about the paths our lives have taken, I feel it is important to stay in touch with you. I will be posting daily online blogs on the situation we now all find ourselves in. Please feel free to comment and keep in touch!

I returned yesterday from eight days in Havana. I flew Air China on March 6 and returned March 14. Prior to my departure, my friends were giving me weird looks about flying Air China but I had paid my ticket and figured the plane would be well disinfected.

It wasn’t! Although they took our temperature twice, once before boarding and once while in flight, and while the flight attendants were wearing masks and gloves, the tray where food is served at my seat was visibly dirty. And the plane had come from Bejing to Montreal.

I had brought Lysol wipes (stocks must be going up for that company) and wiped down the video screen, the seat belt, the seat rests and everything else I could get my hands on to wipe. I gave out wipes to those around me, which was appreciated.

We made it safely to Havana and I enjoyed a few days until the first cases of COVID-19 were identified in Havana. Five Italians who had travelled to Cuba through Mexico and who were staying at a Casa Particulare or B & B were tested and two of them were positive for the novel coronavirus.

It turns out that my good friend Dr. Caridad Morin, who is a specialist in infectious diseases, was sent to the B & Bs to check whether other tourists had the virus. Just as there are in Montreal, there is a special hospital in Havana designated for people who have the virus.

But things in Havana are changing as quickly as they are here! We had already instituted “social distancing” in our casa with our Cuban friends and with each other.

On March 10, my friends Yehudi and Francoise arrived for three weeks from Mexico. They are Montrealers. They had assumed the coronavirus risk was inflated. At the airport I noticed many people coming from Miami and hugging their Cuban relatives who were meeting them. I was wearing a scarf wrapped around my mouth and nose and others were holding cloths to their faces. Then on March 12, my cousin arrived with two of her friends, from Montreal. We had one night of relative peace until on March 13, when we walked into the Parque Centrale hotel and checked the internet.

Then all hell broke loose!

The three women panicked and wanted to get home to Canada immediately. I was not so sure about that! I thought maybe staying in Cuba would be a safer choice. Now I think not. The next day, yesterday, March 14, our government issued a warning to get home as soon as possible. My cousin somehow got a flight home through Toronto this morning, March 15.

I wrote to my friends Peter, Yehudi, and Francoise who are staying at the casa, that I couldn’t be sure what advice to give them but that if they stayed in Havana they might not be able to get back to Canada in two or three weeks as they are planning.

Suffice it to say, I am under self-imposed isolation for two weeks. Our government has asked us to self-isolate if we’ve returned from outside Canada. Please listen to them.

Irwin’s mother’s 102nd birthday party at Kokkino’s restaurant in NDG, which was supposed to be celebrated today, was cancelled. Irwin cannot visit his mom for at least two weeks and Ruth is not unhappy about that. She realizes the danger. She is in a relatively small residence but I hope visits from the outside are being curtailed.

We wish that all the seniors in residences stay safe and that relatives resist visiting. We hope caregivers stay safe and if they have contacted travelers, they do not go to work. Private caregivers have already been banned from all CHSLDs creating a furor! But they must do that!

Small businesses are under enormous pressure to know how to deal with the virus. We cannot know what will happen in two weeks or even a month to many small businesses who depend on students and seniors and workers to stay alive financially.

As for The Senior Times, we will have two people in the office this week. We are now planning to come out with an April issue on April 15 but we’ll have to wait and see how this situation evolves. Hopefully, the federal government’s somewhat late response to quell the spread of the virus, will bring us good news in two or three weeks that life can continue as usual.

In the meantime, please dear readers, stay home!! Get your prescriptions filled, your fridge stocked up (if need be with the help of younger neighbours, friends, and family) and stay connected by phone and internet.

Keep the radio on! The CBC is a reliable source of news about the Virus and The Gazette has many helpful articles about what’s closed and open and how to proceed if you feel sick!

Stay home for yourself and your loved ones!

Much as I hate to say it, stay away from coffee shops and restaurants. Go for a nice walk! Walk the dog if you have one! Try to finish that novel you’ve been writing for years! Above all, stay connected and let me hear from you!

—    Barbara Moser, Publisher and Editor of The Senior Times

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