Cuba’s Coronavirus solidarity
On Wednesday I was cycling westwards on the autopista nacional out of Havana when I saw a fleet of ambulances and buses zoom past accompanied by an extensive police guard. I later discovered that the vehicles were headed to the port of Mariel, 40 kilometres outside of Havana, to meet British cruise ship MS Braemer. MS Braemer, owned by company Fred Olsen, had been stranded in the Caribbean for a week, unable to make port anywhere because of a several passengers onboard with suspected coronavirus. The Dominican Republic, The Bahamas and Barbados all turned the ship away. Earlier this week the Cuban government announced that the country would be welcoming the stranded British cruise ship and helping its passengers get home to the UK.
In a joint effort between the British and Cuban governments, all 682 passengers and 381 crew aboard MS Braemer were safely transferred from the port of Mariel to José Martí airport in Havana. Four different British Airways planes took home all of MS Braemer’s British passengers and crew on Wednesday 18 March. Those with confirmed or suspected coronavirus travelled on a separate plane to avoid further risk of transmission.
Yesterday representatives of Fred Olsen publicly thanked Cuba for its co-operation, as did UK foreign minister, Dominic Raab. Passengers aboard the ship also extended their thanks to the Cuban government and people, recognising the country’s solidarity in this time of global epidemic. As The Independent pointed out,
“This is not the first time Cuban healthcare providers have stepped in to support global emergencies. Cuban doctors were praised after being deployed in West Africa to help during the Ebola crisis. They were said to have put other countries ‘to shame’ following their response to the Haitian earthquake in 2010.”
Cuba’s attitude of solidarity stands in stark comparison to the other Caribbean nations who refused to receive the ship; even the US put obstacles in the way of helping the stranded Brits on board. For a developing country facing a crippling trade embargo, limited fuel supply and a crash in its principle industry – tourism – Cuba is is not shy of putting global humanitarian interests first. Cuba’s help with MS Braemer is just another reason why it’s one of the most exceptional countries in the world.