As the novel coronavirus spreads through the world, Cuba is getting creative about facemasks.
The communist-run island’s government has said that a textile factory in Sanctí Spriritus, Cuba, is producing face masks with the aim of protecting people from the coronavirus, instead of making school uniforms and other items.
Masks have become increasingly hard to find in many countries hard hit by the outbreak of the virus but Cubans are famous for their ability to “resolver” or figure out a solution despite any obstacles. Cuba’s Health Ministry has even posted a video online advising Cubans how to make their own masks.
The factory has already made 1400 of the masks, reported state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
On Wednesday, Cuban health officials announced that three Italian tourists were the island’s first confirmed cases of the sickness. The tourists apparently brought the illness with them on holiday when they arrived in Cuba on Monday and are now in isolation at a hospital in Havana.
Cuban health officials said they had 3200 beds ready across the island and several military hospitals would be opened to the public to handle a potential influx of people with the virus.
Although Cuban officials said they had recently increased screening at airports, no restrictions have been placed on visitors from any of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus. The Cuban economy is dependent on tourism, which has been in decline following a series of punishing economic sanctions and travel restrictions from the US government.
While Cuban health professionals have a long history of working in disaster zones, the coronavirus will present a unique challenge to the island’s already battered public health care system.
Thousands of Cuban doctors are abroad on medical missions, earning badly needed hard currency for the island’s communist-run government.
Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, and according to Cuban government statistics nearly 20% of the island is 60 years of age or older.
This pandemic strikes at a particularly bad time for Cuba: The island is confronting the worst economic crisis in years and has been warning Cubans that further belt tightening is in store. In recent weeks, there have been shortages of soap and disinfectants in stores.
But asked about the shortages outside a market, Alexi, who did not want to give his last name, said he was not worried about the lack of many basic supplies, citing another homegrown Cuban solution: “We will do what we always do,” he said. “Mix some water with bleach and wash our hands with that.”
Correction: This story and headline have been updated to reflect that the face masks are made of a different material from that of the school uniforms.