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The US State Department has downgraded its travel advisory to US citizens on trips to Cuba from level three “reconsider travel” to level two “exercise increased caution.”
The travel warning had previously been elevated after mysterious illnesses struck several diplomats working in the US Embassy in Havana. Authorities believe the illnesses are the result of “sonic attacks” on the embassy employees, who began exhibiting a range of physical symptoms including “ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems and difficulty sleeping.” Officials are still unsure exactly what was causing the attacks and subsequent illnesses. However, the new alert, issued on Thursday, recognizes that it was only US diplomats that were targeted in the sonic attacks, not everyday tourists.
As a result of the sonic attacks, the Embassy in Havana is operating with reduced employees — part of the reason the travel warning is still at level two. “Exercise increased caution in Cuba due to attacks targeting U.S. Embassy Havana employees resulting in the drawdown of embassy staff,” the advisory states.
The sonic episodes occurred in US diplomatic residences (including a long-term apartment at the Atlantic) and at Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana, the advisory says, so officials say US tourists who do visit Cuba should avoid staying at those places.
Visitors to Cuba are also advised to move to another area if they feel any acute auditory or sensory phenomena and to know where to seek medical attention.
A similar health alert was issued by the State Department for China earlier this year after similar audio-induced illnesses popped up in a US diplomat stationed in Guangzhou, a city in China’s southern region. The alert urged US citizens traveling in China to seek medical attention as soon as possible for “any unusual, unexplained physical symptoms or events, auditory or sensory phenomena.” China however, did not receive a travel advisory.
American tourism in Cuba saw a boom after the US repealed its travel restrictions for the Caribbean island in 2014. That spike had been tamped down due to the previously elevated level three travel advisory, along with Cuba travel restrictions enacted by US President Donald Trump in November that prohibited tourism-oriented business with entities with links to Cuba’s military — including hotels, tourist agencies, rum makers, stores and more.
Featured image of Havana by @yellowillow via Twenty20.
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