Page last updated at 22:37 GMT, Saturday, 31 October 2009

Cuba swine flu 'from US tourists'

By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

People walk in Old Havana, Cuba
All of Cuba's early cases of swine flu were from foreign visitors

Cuba's former leader, Fidel Castro, has blamed the growth in swine flu on an increase in US visitors to the island.

US President Barack Obama recently lifted restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting relatives on the island.

This is the the first time any Cuban official has found cause to complain about the US president's policy of relaxing travel restrictions.

But, in an editorial published by Mr Castro in all state media, he suggests more US visitors mean more swine flu.

The 83-year-old former president said that the H1N1 virus had spread to all the island's provinces, especially those with a large number of relatives living in the US.

At the same time, Fidel Castro noted, the US trade embargo prevents Cuba from obtaining equipment and medicines needed to combat the virus.

But he stopped short of calling it a conspiracy. "I don't think, of course, that it was the intention of the United States government," Fidel Castro wrote.

"But this is the reality resulting from the absurd and shameful blockade," he added.

There have been 800 reported cases of the flu in Cuba, including seven deaths.

All of the early cases were from foreign visitors, though not just from the US.

The head of the World Health Organisation, Margaret Chan, was in Havana last week and announced that Cuba should start receiving international swine flu vaccines within a month.

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