Feature: Saharan dust cloud reaches Cuba amid COVID-19

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, June 27, 2020
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by Yosley Carrero

HAVANA, June 26 (Xinhua) -- From an ocean-view apartment in central Havana, amateur Cuban photographer Mario Fernandez, 69, snaps pictures of beautiful sunsets caused by Saharan dust that has been affecting the Caribbean country over the last few days.

Among them is one that shows Havana's famed oceanside promenade shrouded in a haze generated by the huge dust cloud, which has traveled over 4,000 miles from west Africa, on its way to Mexico and the United States.

Fernandez says that although the dust has turned the country's blue skies brown, it has given him a chance to take advantage of his leisure time, as the air quality in Cuba has worsened, increasing the probability of contracting respiratory diseases.

"Despite the fact that Saharan dust particles can only be seen by weather satellites, we should stay home for the moment to avoid getting sick. Elderly people like me are more vulnerable," he told Xinhua.

Cuban health authorities ruled out any link between the Saharan dust cloud and a potential upsurge in the number of novel coronavirus infections on the island, where 13 of 15 provinces and the Special Municipality Isla de la Juventud have remained virus free for the last two weeks.

Francisco Duran, the national director of epidemiology at the Cuban Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), said, however, that the number of people affected by respiratory diseases and allergies in the country could increase due to the Saharan dust.

Respiratory disease is the fourth cause of death among Cubans, and special areas to care for people suffering from breathing problems were set up at hospitals and clinics after the first confirmed cases of coronavirus were registered on the island on March 11.

Mirta Alvarez Castellon, president of the Cuban Society of Allergies and Asthma, said Saharan dust can provoke eye, nose, and mouth irritation, leading to a significant increase in visits to doctors' offices and emergency rooms.

"We recommend avoiding outdoor exercise. In addition, wearing face masks and sunglasses is essential as they work as barriers to avoid the contact of small particles with people's eyes, noses, and mouths," she said.

During 2019, Cubans made more than 4 million visits to doctors' offices due to severe breathing problems, according to MINSAP.

Currently, 1 million people in the country suffer from asthma and nearly 45 percent of adolescents suffer from allergies, according to health experts.

Ailen Piquero, a 20-year-old asthma sufferer from the Marianao district of Havana, said that this week, she has used her inhaler more often. "I will stay home, keep the windows closed, and follow health measures as long as the Saharan dust is around. This is just temporary," she said.

The Sahara Desert is the main global source of mineral dust that spreads across Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and North America and has a huge impact on the environment as well as the development of hurricanes and tropical storms.

The massive Saharan dust cloud is nicknamed the "Godzilla Dust Cloud," with a concentration and size that have not been seen in half a century.

Cuban meteorologist Eugenio Mojena said that Saharan dust clouds, which arrive in the Caribbean between March and October, are loaded with material that is "highly harmful to human health."

Mojena said the dust clouds transport minerals as well as viruses, bacteria, and organic pollutants to the Caribbean, creating a phenomenon known as "The Asthma Corridor."

"Saharan dust has the capacity to increase the likelihood of respiratory diseases in the world, which makes things more complex in the context of the COVID-19 crisis," he said. Enditem

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