Cuba closes borders to non-residents over virus: president

The driver of a vintage American car wears a face mask while taking tourists around Havana -- but Cuba is to close to visitors over the coronavirus outbreak (AFP Photo/YAMIL LAGE)

Havana (AFP) - Cuba announced on Friday the closure of its borders to non-residents due to the coronavirus pandemic, having previously tried to remain open to keep its key tourism industry alive.

"We're going to regulate the entry at the country's borders, allowing only Cuban residents to enter," said President Miguel Diaz-Canel after updating Cuba's number of confirmed cases to 21, with one Italian tourist having died.

Diaz-Canel said Cubans abroad could come home and foreigners in Cuba would be allowed to leave.

Economically crippled by US sanctions, Cuba is largely dependent on its tourism revenue.

The measure will come into effect on Tuesday and will last for 30 days. There are 60,000 tourists currently in Cuba.

"Next week no tourists" will enter the country, said Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, adding that almost all hotels on the island would close.

Until now, Cuba had bucked the regional trend of closing its borders to foreigners.

That generated heavy criticism from a worried population where 20 percent are over 60 and there are often cuts in the water supply and a lack of soap.

Washing hands regularly is one of the main pieces of advice that health authorities have given people to help them avoid contracting the virus.