by Yosley Carrero
HAVANA, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) -- Cuba confirmed 405 new cases of the novel coronavirus, down from 547 a day earlier, the island's Ministry of Public Health reported Saturday.
The nationwide COVID-19 tally now stands at 17,501 after the new confirmed cases hit the 500 mark in three consecutive days.
Of all the new cases, 171 were logged in Havana, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic on the island, followed by the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas, Guantanamo and Villa Clara.
Meanwhile, the island reported four new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the national death toll to 166 as the country strives to control its largest wave of infections since the pandemic began.
New data released by the health ministry shows that January 2021 has been the worst month in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cuba, with 5,445 infections registered so far.
At present, 4,123 active cases in Cuba are hospitalized at COVID-19 wards with 46 patients in intensive care units.
Francisco Duran, national director of epidemiology at the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, urged people to follow physical distancing rules and safety measures to bring the virus under control.
"The epidemiological situation is complex, but we are working hard to contain the spread of the pandemic. People's participation is fundamental," he said during a COVID-19 daily press briefing.
Duran's statement came after lockdown restrictions were imposed nationwide, and school classes in Havana and other hardest-hit municipalities were suspended.
On Saturday, 55 children under 18 tested positive for COVID-19, taking the total to 1,865.
"Having the kids at home 24/7 demands a lot more of my time, but it is necessary at the moment," said a 40-year-old father Antonio Echarte. "Aside from remote work, I will cope with televised lessons and homeschooling as of Monday."
In addition, 61.3 percent of the total number of COVID-19 cases in the Caribbean nation have reported no symptoms, according to data released by the island nation's health authorities.
Cuban Minister of Public Health Jose Angel Portal said that asymptomatic carriers are increasing the transmissibility of the virus while asking people to reinforce COVID-19 protocols at public areas and home.
"Cuba must keep on betting on the development of the local vaccine, which continues to make progress," he said, adding that national scientists are working hard to immunize the population against the virus.
The first confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Cuba were reported in March 2020 after three Italian tourists visiting the central town of Trinidad tested positive for COVID-19.