By Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) - Twenty-nine Cubans recently returned from Venezuela have tested positive for COVID-19 over the last eight days, according to government data, raising questions about health conditions in the South American country under tough U.S. sanctions.
There is no open travel in Cuba due to the pandemic, so most returnees would likely be from the 20,000 health personnel who were stationed in Venezuela. At least two of the cases were reported in provincial media as health workers.
Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Venezuela Socialist Party medical clinics, several run by Cuban doctors, have been dispatching teams of Cuban medical workers on foot into densely-populated barrios to track down residents who reported potential COVID-19 systems on a state-run website.
In March, Cuba sent an additional 130 doctors to Venezuela to help with the country’s coronavirus response.
All the cases were listed by the Cuban health ministry in daily reports covering July 26 through August 3, which provided little detail.
"Fifty-six-year-old Cuban citizen. Resident of San Luis municipality, Pinar del Rio province. Traveler arriving from Venezuela," reads one of five case reports published on Monday.
The Sancti Spiritus provincial paper Escambray reported "the new case is a public health collaborator, from Venezuela who resides in Venegas, Yaguajay," referring to another patient.
The Trump administration claims Cuban public health professionals in Venezuela are security agents, but at the same time says they are real doctors and nurses being trafficked and abused by their Communist-run government.
Cuba vehemently denies the accusations, and Cuban officials have countered that Washington should worry more about its own citizens' health.
Cuba has not reported how many of its health professionals battling the coronavirus at home and in more than 40 other countries have fallen ill, but said none have died. Cubans returning from abroad are quarantined for 14 days.
Most of the Caribbean island nation has been free of the disease for at least two months, but some cases continue to be reported in Havana and bordering provinces.
Cuba has reported fewer than 3,000 cases and 88 deaths to date.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Additional reporting by Sarah Kinosian in Venezuela; Editing by Dan Grebler and Bill Berkrot)