Cubans celebrate no local transmission of COVID-19 for first time in four months


HAVANA, July 19 (Reuters) - Cuba for the first time in 130 days on Sunday said there were no new domestic cases of COVID-19 as most of the country moved into the final phase of resuming normal activities with masks and social distancing.

Francisco Duran, head of epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health, and who has updated the country daily on the pandemic, took off his mask during the national broadcast for only the second time deliver the good news.

Duran, on Saturday did the same, reporting just a single domestic case in Havana.

Only a handful of COVID-19 cases were reported in Cuba over the last week, all in Havana. Most of the Caribbean island, home to 11.2 million inhabitants, has been free of the disease for more than a month.

“I always tell you to stay safe at home, but I know many will go to the beach today,” Duran said, smiling, before reminding his television audience about social distancing.

The capital's 2.2 million residents remain at the first phase of three stages of reopening where they can once more move around on public and private transport, go to the beach and other recreation centers, and enjoy a seaside drive just in time for the summer break. They can also dine and have a drink.

Each phase allows capacity at venues to increase from an initial 60%. Interprovincial transportation begins during phase two, while phase three includes schools reopening.

Social distancing and wearing masks remain mandatory in most circumstances.

The country has opened a group of isolated resort keys to international tourism. Phase three broadens international travel depending on risk.

The Communist-run country has been given high marks for its textbook handling of the pandemic.

Cuba's robust and free community-based health system, door-to-door search for carriers, isolation of the sick, suspected cases and contacts has allowed it to keep the number of infections under 2,500 with 87 deaths.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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